One of the most difficult, personally challenging aspects of the shootings in Newtown – like those in Columbine and a growing list of so many other elementary and secondary schools – is that they stand as such stark examples of the fact that, here in the United States, we possess so much knowledge that we are not using to shield our children. I’m referring to pockets of expertise scattered across the public and private sectors – knowledge that, when integrated in a strategic and systematic way, is crucial to preventing acts of madness.
Over the last 10 years, our nation has slowly lost the focus on developing a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to prevent acts of targeted violence in our schools. There was a time when our vision was clearer and our purpose more resolute. We made some remarkable progress with a number of initiatives that made a difference. These have included:
- The Safe School Initiative: A collaborative effort between the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education to examine school-based attacks in order to identify pre-attack behaviors and communications that might be detectable – or “knowable” – and could help in preventing some future events.
- The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students’ (OSHS) Center for School Preparedness: The OSHS established the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center to support schools, school districts, and institutions of higher education in emergency management, including the development and implementation of comprehensive emergency and crisis response plans.
- The Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program: Congress recently eliminated several programs administered by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, which provided funding for drug and violence prevention programs, training security personnel and School Resource Officers (SROs), and other school crime and violence prevention initiatives.
- School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV): This program funds short-term and long-term education-related services for local educational agencies (LEAs) and institutions of higher education (IHEs) to help them recover from a violent or traumatic event in which the learning environment has been disrupted.
- COPS Secure Our Schools (SOS) Grant Program: Administered by the Justice Department’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing, this program provides funding to state, local, or tribal governments to assist with the development of school safety resources.
- COPS In Schools (CIS) Programs: This program was designed to help law enforcement agencies hire new, additional school resource officers to engage in community policing in and around primary and secondary schools. The most recent round of funding was seven years ago, in July 2005.
- Safe Schools, Healthy Students Grant Program: Funded by the Departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services, this program helps school districts, in partnership with mental health providers, law enforcement and juvenile justice agencies, implement projects that create safe and healthy schools and communities.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Programs: These various programs focus on raising awareness about the importance of mental health and promoting acceptance, support, prevention and recovery from these mental health conditions.
Having devoted 30 years as a public servant to missions at various levels of federal, state and local law enforcement, I understand firsthand the challenges faced by our government. Governing is always about choices – making difficult decisions in difficult times. Unfortunately, over the last few years, fiscal challenges in the public sector have all but eliminated these programs for elementary and secondary education. While we find these choices regrettable, it’s not our place to second guess the rationale underlying them. I am confident that, in time, the political will in our nation will once again be heard and our focus will become clearer. In the meantime, we won’t sit back and wait. Yesterday, we announced Act #1, introducing our not-for-profit national targeted violence prevention center for primary and secondary schools in the United States. Today, we announce Act #2: we formally open the door to begin providing school violence prevention advisory services to any school administrator or law enforcement agency confronting a school security concern. We can be contacted to provide strategic counsel and direction when local school administrators or police suspect an individual of plotting violence or have uncovered indicators of concern. We will help these decision-makers understand threat assessment protocols and best practices used to identify and de-escalate these types of events and connect them with local resources.