A Weapons Reduction Program for Public Schools

By Dorn, Michael S. | Law & Order, April 1999 | Go to article overview

A Weapons Reduction Program for Public Schools


Dorn, Michael S., Law & Order


School systems across the United States are assigning police officers to restore order and public confidence in the educational environment. A primary concern to be addressed by these officers is the problem of weapons on campus. With more than 300 shooting incidents reported in schools in a single year, the problem of guns. and other lethal weapons creates fear in the school setting.

The events of this past school year painfully demonstrated what school security experts have known for years. Serious weapons incidents can occur in any school at any time.

The good news is, there are proven techniques that can prevent the vast majority of these school assaults. The techniques outlined here directly thwarted several attempted school shootings and one attempted bombing in a school system. While no countermeasures can absolutely insure that an assault will not happen, they can dramatically reduce the odds of such an event.

While many school systems and police departments have developed effective weapons prevention programs, the Bibb County Board of Education Campus Police Department in Macon, Georgia has a particularly effective and comprehensive strategy. This concept allowed the system to retain its record of never having had a student shot on school grounds. It has also led to a significant drop in the number of gun violations among the 25,000 Bibb County Public School students. Even small pocketknives have become rare on campus.

The Bibb County Board of Education Campus Police Department, the ninth oldest school system police department in the United States, has 27 sworn and armed officers patrolling school campuses on foot, in marked and unmarked vehicles, and on mountain bikes. The department is recognized for its innovative strategies and progressive approaches to school safety, but is perhaps best known for its weapons reduction program.

Members of the department have trained more than 6000 officers and educators, nationally and internationally. The department has also hosted personnel from more than 75 police departments, schools systems and government agencies from around the nation for on-site field training.

The key to prevention of weapons violations on school grounds is a comprehensive approach. The five-step process used to reduce weapons violations by more than 72% in Bibb County can be replicated by other police departments and school systems.

The five steps are:

Assessment. The extent of the weapons problem must be determined; thorough legal analysis of current school search and seizure problems must be conducted; school board and police department policies must be reviewed; and, if needed, new policies and specific strategies must be designed and implemented.

Information. Systematic efforts must be made to insure that officers, educators, students, parents and the public understand the weapons policy, the preventive measures, and the consequences of a policy violation.

Weapons screening. Frequent, surprise, random searches conducted by officers acting under the direction (and therefore the legal authority) of the principal should be planned if the system is to detect, and more importantly, to deter weapons violations. Entry point metal detection is expensive, complicated and can significantly alter the routine of the school, but may be a viable option. School staff and police personnel can be trained on visual screening techniques to help them spot students and non-students who carry weapons to school. Intensive traffic enforcement focused on firearms interdiction effectively prevents drive-by shootings on and near schools.

Consistent enforcement. A written policy of arrest and removal from the school by expulsion or assignment to an alternative campus of felony weapons violators should be established and followed consistently.

Continual evaluation. A system for regular programmatic review must be established to adjust to the changing needs of the academic environment by getting feedback from police officers, educators, students and the public. …

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