More Cops in Schools Is the Wrong Answer to Mass Shootings

Some pundits want school security to be as pointlessly intrusive as airport security.


Amy Beth Bennett/TNS/Newscom

As we grapple with the tragic deaths of 17 people in a terrible mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, some conservatives are already suggesting that the best way to prevent future massacres is a massive increase in security, including more cops in schools.

Sean Hannity of Fox News opined that schools should hire former military servicemen and retired police officers to keep kids safe in class.

"Let's protect the kids," he said on his show last night, "Former military, retired military, retired police…every school should have basic fundamental security. Not like the White House necessarily, but we can secure anything we choose to secure."

Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera agreed, insisting that schools "should be at least as secure as airports."

Airports are an example of security theater run amok. Despite its heavy-handed approach to screening passengers, the Transportation Security Administration routinely fails to stop people from bringing guns and knives into the terminal: The agency missed 95 percent of the weapons in 2015's security tests. Over-the-top security measures in airports provide the illusion of safety rather than actual protection, and they come at a significant cost both in money and in civil liberties.

You wouldn't realize it from listening to Hannity, but schools have already beefed up security significantly since the 1990s. One way they've done it is by hiring "school resource officers"—law enforcement agents that work in the school. In fact, 43 percent of public schools in the U.S. have an SRO right now, up from 20 percent in 1996, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas and every other school in the district where it's located. These aren't part-time security guards or retired persons, they're the real thing: on-the-job law enforcement agents.

Fear of mass shootings was a main driver of increased demand for SROs. Between 1999—the year Columbine happened—and 2005, the federal Department of Justice gave schools $750 million to hire cops. There's scant evidence that this spending binge made schools any safer, since the school crime rate had already been trending downward (it fell by half between 1992 and 2002, consistent with the overall crime drop in the U.S. during the latter half of the 1990s).

It's tough to imagine that hiring even more officers to patrol schools would further reduce a form of crime that's already fairly rare. (As Reason's Nick Gillespie noted last night, mass shootings have not been getting more common, though they have been getting more deadly.) This is especially true when, as in Florida yesterday, the existing security measures failed so dramatically. (I don't just mean SROs. Metal detectors aren't nearly as effective as one might expect.)

Meanwhile, whatever benefits those measures bring come with ugly trade-offs. The ubiquitous presence of law enforcement in public schools has led to serious infringements of students' Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, and it has increased the likelihood that minor disputes between students will escalate into criminal justice issues. I've covered case after case of teenagers arrested on child porn charges because they swapped sexually suggestive text messages with other students—something that shouldn't even be a crime, but which often ends up in police hands because teachers and principals defer to SROs in such matters. More broadly, the increased police presence in schools is directly related to the rise of zero tolerance and the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

After a high-profile crime, pundits of all political persuasions go looking for soundbite-sized solutions, from an "assault weapon" ban to a vaguely pitched overhaul of the mental health system. Beefing up school security belongs in the same category as those well-meaning but flawed fixes.

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  1. Sean Hannity of Fox News opined that schools should hire former military servicemen and retired police officers to keep kids safe in class.

    Damn right. A few rolls of concertina wire, some sandbags, the occasional claymore, and a MA2 or two, and you get no more school shootings.
    Of course, then the crazy guys might just start in with 60mm mortars.

  2. The presence of an armed thug of below-average intelligence who faces no consequences for his actions is supposed to make a school safer? I would think the opposite is true.

    1. More evidence that the conservatives are just as much in favor of the government doing something to protect us as the liberals.

  3. Mandatory homeschooling is really the only viable solution.

    1. Yeah, but you can never be too safe. We should require Kevlar vests and metal detectors in every home as well!

      Think about the children

    2. You raise a good point. I haven’t heard of any home schooled kids becoming victims of mass shooters.

  4. The problem is not autism but the DIAGNOSIS. This poor child was taught that his brain was defective and would make him do naughty things unless he accepted ‘treatment’. Which is little more than diagnosing others of the disease if they deny it.

  5. Didn’t the rent-a-cop run away at Columbine?


    1. That’s a good point. Police are concerned with two things: officer safety and total compliance. If a shooting occurred at a school with a “resource officer,” that officer would have to run to safety and call for help. If the officer confronted the gunman, then they could be fired for putting their safety at risk.

      1. I’m guessing that’s why they toss “retired military” into the mix – on the assumption they would be less likely to run away from danger than a cop.

        1. “I’m guessing that’s why they toss “retired military” into the mix”

          Or they’re playing to their base…

        2. Why? Our military hasn’t won a war in 70 years. It settles for vague draws with ragtag irregulars, despite an overwhelming taxpayer-provided resource advantage. The United States increasingly relies on surrogates and mercenaries when a mission is important and involves more than some guy sitting behind a screen 3,500 miles from the action and pressing the buttons of long-range weapons.

          1. You can’t win a war unless you actually declare war, I’m afraid.

  6. lets see our politicians we put behind barriers and armed guards but our kids we put up a sign and wish them the best of luck?

    1. I don’t think turning schools into prison environments is the best lesson to teach kids – the real world doesn’t have armed guards and metal detectors everywhere.

      1. Most of the real world also isn’t off-limits to ccw holders carrying a gun.

      2. Ever since Colombine, in my county every high school and junior high has a police liaison officer. It doesn’t make it a prison environment and they don’t walk around in SWAT gear or anything weird.…..08f0a.html

        According to the linked article, there’s been a lot of benefits. Fewer fights, tip off to off campus petty crimes.

    2. “lets see our politicians we put behind barriers and armed guards”

      I can’t think of a single time when a politician has been shot…

    3. Well, most people would agree that politicians belong in prison . . .or did you mean some other kind of “barrier and armed guards”?

  7. This argument is interesting but unconvincing.

    I have taught in Florida schools (Collier County), where we’ve had armed deputies on station for decades. That is NO guarantee, but they do intercept students bringing guns to school (I know — I was at one when it happened). I am unfamiliar with Broward County, but in the wake of what happened there, I have to ask, “Where was the cop?”.

    Yes, there is a problem with 4th Amendment violations (cops going after drugs rather than shooters), and I’ve seen that too, but a principal instigator here is school administrators who have more respect for public image than for the laws they say they want to enforce. And, cops pay attention to the 4th Amendment when judges require them to do so.

    Finally, though we all have experienced the horror of these incidents, what are we doing in our classrooms to educate students on the laws they have to obey? I’m not seeing a lot of that, and clearly we need more of it.

    Seizing guns is not the answer. The legitimacy of our democracy rests on the sovereign power of an armed population. In The Federalist # 28, Alexander Hamilton explained this power explicitly. And, we must guard against its erosion, since that by its nature converts a government of free men into one of ruler and ruled.

    We need a solution that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. “Finally, though we all have experienced the horror of these incidents, what are we doing in our classrooms to educate students on the laws they have to obey? I’m not seeing a lot of that, and clearly we need more of it.”

      They have to obey all of them, or risk being killed by a LEO. Unfortunately, since our LEO’s don’t even know the laws well and it would take probably all 12 years of primary schooling to even begin to understand them all, I don’t see this improving much.

      Do you think that kid didn’t know he’s not supposed to kill people?

      1. Teach boys not to kill.

  8. My state has had only a few school shootings (I think two) since 1995, and neither were mass shootings. Putting cops into our schools would not have stopped these incidents and would be expensive. If the cops are armed it would actually make it more dangerous.

    1. This is just another potential application for robots.

  9. An SRO is a person who deals with school problems where as a security officer could be designated to one job only and that is the security of the school of people coming and going. Still i don’t think it would resolve the issue and only make all kids into prisoners, which if you think about it may be why there has been an uptick in school shooting is because the liberal method of conflict resolution has only forced problems to be hidden under the rug until a person believes their only recourse is the ultimate solution. Sometime you need to let kids fight it out.

  10. there has been an uptick in school shooting is because the liberal method of conflict resolution has only forced problems to be hidden under the rug until a person believes their only recourse is the ultimate solution.

    I wouldn’t necessarily blame liberals/progressives for this. Schools started to become prison-like in the 1990s because of the war on drugs, which definitely was a conservative (though not in the true meaning of the word) initiative. Then you have this obsession with testing that accelerated with No Child Left Behind that Bush II signed into law (I know-not a real conservative either). So the teachers and admins spend more time focused on tests, and less getting to know the students. Maybe if they could, they would be able to better identify potential troublemakers.

    Note that all of these shootings have been at PUBLIC schools in mostly affluent areas (so you can’t blame a lack of resources). Private and charter schools are free to follow their own curricula.

    1. So there is no gang violence in impoversihed, inner-city schools?

      1. I am talking about mass shootings here, and while there certainly is gang violence in inner city schools, almost all mass shootings have been in wealthier suburbs.

        1. And yet, gang violence is a bugger problem.

          I am old enough to remember when the media focused on the problem of gang violence in the inner cities.

          Today, the media’s focus is on mass shootings.

          I wonder why.

          1. And yet, gang violence is a bugger problem.

            Well, in that case what we need is an exterminator.

      2. If an angry nerd tried to approach an inner-city school carrying an AR-15, the gangsters would shoot him and steal it.

    2. Schools started to become prison-like in the 1990s because of the war on drugs,

      You mean the 3-4 years of the decade when a (if not *the* prototypical) liberal Democrat wasn’t in the White House? I mean, to this day, Clinton and Biden tout the ’94 Crime bill and it’s effects.

      I don’t mean to abscond the GOP from any/all blame, but the route you chose to highlight this is dubious at best. I think a far better argument, especially in hindsight, is that the GOP was fervently trying to staple public education together as some sort of religious-friendly ROI excursion rather than bolstering alternatives and divestment.

  11. Administrators expelled this kid for making death threats but took no precautions except to send teachers an email. How does a kid expelled for making death threats get into the building carrying a RIFLE? School administrators have some explaining to do.

  12. Didn’t the FBI get multiple tips on this guy and did nothing? What’s the point of their existence again?

    1. How is this under federal jurisdiction?

    2. Just like Sandy Hook (though it was the local police who got the reports if I remember correctly).

    3. You can’t punish people for things they haven’t done yet.

      1. Yet.

    1. If we got some, you figure we might win a war more often than once every 75 years?

      1. Soldiers prevent school massacres, not cause them. We just have to take the leash off.

        1. Soon as congress says so, Mr. Dictator;
          In the United States, a federal statute known as the Posse Comitatus Act forbids the use of the United States Army, and through it, its offspring, the United States Air Force, as a posse comitatus or for law enforcement purposes without the approval of Congress. A directive from the Secretary of Defense prohibits the use of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps for law enforcement.

          (Pay no attention to the airborne units in Little Rock)

  13. How about some other ways about thinking about the problem.

    Let’s reduce the size of schools dramatically and compensate by increasing the number and diversity of schools so kids can choose to go to schools that don’t make them feel hopelessly out of place. Keep the schools small enough so they can be located in any conveniently available space (mall front, teachers basement, etc…).

    Quit implying that success depends on voting for the right candidate, and the person that votes for the wrong candidate is your enemy that is going to take away the stuff you are entitled to. Let’s reduce the role of government till they are no longer picking winners and losers.

    Quit teaching kids they have to follow some stupid path to be successful. Diversity is critical to true progress. If you are happy doing lawn work, more power to you. I hate it, and I’d be more than happy to pay you to do it. My standards are really low, so you don’t need a degree to work on my lawn. You really don’t even need to be sober or drug free.

    In other words, give people lots of chances to feel successful, and they probably won’t feel like they have so little hope they might as well go out shooting up everyone who took away their dreams.

  14. The simple truth is, you can’t legislate away crazy. When you have 300 million individuals, some of them are going to go wrong. Unless you perfect time travel and convict them at the pre-crime stage, you’re never going to eradicate crazy people doing these types of things on rare occasions. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look for an answer, but I am saying it’s as likely as finding Bigfoot in your living room. So chatter on and good luck.

    1. Seems like the obvious answer is you do a background check on Bigfoot when he tries to buy a gun. And maybe, just maybe, close all the loop holes that let him get one anyway.

  15. For libertarians to opine on how to keep students safe in government-run schools is about as pointless and bizarre as for libertarians to opine on the proper operations of Soviet gulags.

    1. Yes, as I am the 0.000000013% pointed out above, the real solution is to abolish suburban mega-schools. They are alienation factories where dangerous craziness can fester in plain sight unnoticed. You rarely see these mass shootings happening in small rural schools or urban neighborhood schools.

      1. Small rural schools are the feeder system for our depleted, can’t-keep-up backwaters. Bright flight enables smart, ambitious students to overcome a shambling background by departing at graduation in pursuit of education, opportunity, and modernity on strong campuses and in successful communities, but success develops despite rather than because of small rural schools.

  16. no matter how many laws are on the books, no matter how many locks you have, no matter how many guards you have there will never be enough to stop one person from assaulting another.

    the Second Amendment is not the problem it is the solution.

  17. Airports are an example of security theater run amok.

    On the flip side. The schools that do have metal detectors and cameras at the single point of entry seem to have fewer mass shootings than the other schools do. That or their shootings happen just happen to occur outside the building and/or relatively singularly so that no one cares if some of the most secure schools in the nation pile up some relatively astounding body counts.

  18. Under the reasoning that killers are attracted to/ successful at shooting in a “gun free zone”, I don’t think it’s so laughable to suggest visible armed security as a deterrent

  19. I’m a small government type of guy, however, it’s sadly apparent that USA is paralyzed with political indecision over something the State of Israel figured out more than 40 years ago: all schools should have mandated security features & active shooter protocols.

    My personal manifesto is that government should never get involved in an issue unless an ongoing clear & present danger exists to large numbers of people & that any regulation or legislation has a sunset provision.

    Here we are.

    In 1974, Israel endured the Ma’alot Massacre in which “Palestinian” terrorists took 115 people hostage at Netiv Meir Elementary School. 22 children & 3 others were killed, 68 injured. Israel now requires schools with 100 or more students to have a guard posted. The civilian police force handles the entire security system of all schools from kindergarten through college. The Ministry of Education funds shelters & fences, reinforces school buses, hires & trains guards.

    Hang this killer in front of the victims families & stream it live across MSM for all who have lost their loved ones in this terror attack.That act will satisfy the families and will be a great justice

    Plenty of veterans would love to pull armed security at schools. Another way to increase employment while helping veterans stay busy & feel like they have purpose again.

    1/2 of all teachers & staff should be armed

    1. I see no reason for Americans to take pointers from Israelis on anything.

      1. And, I see no reason to listen to the many nobodies on the Internet, either. I don’t care that everybody has an opportunity to learn. But, we are not talking about that, here…(;-P…Not considering any viable alternative, because it comes from someone you have a personal problem with, is about the most asinine attitude that anyone could have! It does not give me the thought that it is coming from a very mature Christian. Even, Jesus forgave the Jews, while they were in the act! Maybe, He saw that as a teaching moment! I, personally, ran into this problem when coming out of surgical residency, in rural Arkansas. The other doctors like the saying “We don’t do it that way around here”. Considering they were, all, 20 years into practice, we could have learned things from each other. But, when greed drives doctors, more than the benefits to the patients, it can be understood. It got worse after I went away on a missionary trip to Pignon, Haiti!

  20. The school had a school resource officer, but it’s sounding like he wasn’t on campus at the time. A school resource officer who is on campus probably is a lot more likely to stop a shooter than one who is not. And some degree of redundancy avoids coverage gaps (if there’s only one, he’s occasionally going to have sick days, vacation days, bathroom breaks, etc.).

    From the police report, Cruz was SPOTTED entering campus by a campus monitor, who RECOGNIZED him and radioed in an alert, but there was no response from the SRO before the shooting happened. If there had been an armed SRO watching the gate rather than an unarmed campus monitor, it seems quite likely that the shooting would have been prevented, or at least stopped before 17 people were killed.

    1. But, that requires more reasoning to apply, than seems to be available on high school campuses these days! I read a report there were two, located somewhere else on the big campus.

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  22. I see a ton of complaints, yet a complete lack of any solutions. Please end wholly critical articles you write with some genuine solutions, don’t be like the late night American TV hosts which do nothing but complain. I look forward to next articles, your criticisms are very rational and thought provoking (not to mention the healthy dose of contrarian rationale you have). But again, please provide at least a glimpse, or an idea of a solution. Thank you Robby!

  23. I am not sure I would be so quick to dismiss the idea of limiting the ordinary entry and exit paths into a school, or integrating physical security (metal detectors, backpack checks, etc.). There is a deterrence effect for these actions. These have been in place at federal buildings since the Oklahoma City bombing. Clear or netting backpacks were required for a time in many schools. The NCAA requires clear bags in stadiums.

    It would be trivial to turn some doors at schools into emergency exit only doors and alarm them. It would also be straight forward to have a certain number of monitored entrances at the beginning of the school day, then only one entrance once school is in session. Last, video surveillance is used by many businesses as a security multiplier.

    This would not stop someone from using a fire alarm to cause an exodus and then attacking the exodus. Nor would it stop someone from attacking the entry queue in the morning from the outside. But it might discourage some other forms of attack.

    Bad guys are most likely to strike soft targets. That is true of simple thieves and mass murderers.

    The most basic rule of security is define a perimeter, and secure that perimeter first.

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