Harrington: The Time is Now to Protect Our School Children

Are we ever going to get serious about school safety? The shooting at Columbine High School that left 13 dead occurred almost 20 years ago. The 2007 Virginia Tech shooting left 32 dead. The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting left 26 dead, including 20 first graders. The 2014 UCSB shooting left six dead. The 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting left nine dead. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida left 17 dead – and our schools are still as vulnerable as they have always been. It is time to harden our school facilities to protect our children.

The response following each of these shootings, and dozens of others, is to demand gun control. Predictably, the emotional topic of gun control leads only to divisive rhetoric actually preventing us from doing anything, making our schools less vulnerable to violent attacks. Yelling about gun control prevents us from talking about immediate and real solutions to the problem of active shooters on campus. Specifically, it is too easy for evil people with weapons to access our campuses and harm students. Let’s at least agree on the need to keep armed suspects off school campuses.

The more we allow ourselves to be divided by rhetoric the more inevitable it is these incidents will continue to occur. It is time for action. It is time to get serious about protecting our campuses and our children. We cannot afford to not take action. The failure of the “See Something Say Something” campaign to prevent the Florida shooting is a tragedy, but the need to involve citizens in actively protecting themselves cannot be overstated. We need to keep reporting suspicious activity and we need to hold law enforcement officials accountable if they don’t do their jobs. If you see something, make sure to say something, and then follow up and say something again to make sure it gets through. It is vital we continue to engage with our law enforcement community and it is equally vital that the law enforcement community continues to engage the public.

I have a few thoughts on active shooter training. In the last fifty years there have been zero fire-related school deaths in the United States. Zero. That success is the result of spending a great deal of time and energy teaching our kids how to react to a fire alarm and improved building materials. We need to apply this practice to active shooter training.

In 2013, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department took over police services for the City of Yorba Linda and I was the Yorba Linda Police Services Administrative/Investigation Sergeant. We had promised the City Council we would train every school, both public and private, in active shooter. We kept that promise. The training was delivered in person by professionals who are passionate about teaching school staff how to survive an active shooter event. Unfortunately, the training only took place in Yorba Linda and it is no longer done. No schools protected by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department receive the active shooter training that was delivered to schools in Yorba Linda. We can deliver this training at every school, to every teacher, to every staff member, to every student, and every parent, every year. Training is the most critical component of the target hardening process and, as parents, we should demand it happen right now.

This is an emotional issue and we need to turn that emotion into action. Hardening our campuses, making them less vulnerable, should be something we can all agree on and get done immediately. We cannot gamble with the lives of our children and wait for federal or state officials to act because we know big government moves at glacial speed. We know improved fencing, modern access controls, camera systems, metal detectors, trained staff and students, and sheriff’s personnel committed to school safety will make it much more difficult for someone to walk onto a campus and wreak havoc. We know lawmakers in Washington DC and in Sacramento will never provide the solutions we need. It is time to act locally, to personally own this issue, to force positive change and to embrace common ground. It’s time to take action.

Dave Harrington is the Mayor of Aliso Viejo, a 29 year veteran of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Candidate for Orange County Sheriff.  Dave has been an advocate for School Safety and led one of the first Orange County school’s active shooter training of its kind in the City of Yorba Linda when he was the City’s Sergeant.  Here is more info on Dave. 

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