Guns or No Guns: Is That Really the Question? Part 2—The Controversy Over Arming Monitors

[JK: The conflict over the arming of monitors in the Saratoga Springs School District  is rooted in the fact that the lives of people’s children are at stake.  People on both sides of the issue can easily interpret their opponents in this matter as implicitly threatening their families.  In this blog I take the risk of alienating or even angering those who take a different view.   I offer my opinion using my best judgment and with the best of intent but I also acknowledge that there are valid arguments to the contrary and  I respect those who will disagree with me.

While I have an opinion on the monitor issue and while it is important, it is not the only issue that will determine  my vote.  Ensuring that we have the best educational services for our children goes beyond whether to arm monitors.] 

The Controversy Over Arming Monitors

While there has been much discussion nationally and locally over the best way to keep students and staff safe in schools and proposals for so-called “soft protection” have been part of the conversation, much of the public debate in the Saratoga Springs School District has focused on the question of whether the use of armed grounds monitors provide more safety for students or pose an additional threat to their safety.

Many people are understandably frightened by the level of gun violence in America and they react in very different ways to that fear. In many cases that fear results in the inability to listen to opposing views. School Board meetings where the arming of monitors was discussed often saw members of the audience speak in anger and with contempt of those who disagreed with them. In the most extreme cases those opposed to arming the monitors viewed those who wanted them armed as “gun nuts” and advocates for the NRA. On the other side there were some who angrily viewed their opponents as being unconcerned with the safety of their children.

Complicating the discussion of the role of the monitors is the issue of guns themselves that often triggers strong reactions.  For many people whose only contact with guns is through observing the mayhem that regularly appears on the television news, thinking about guns often generates visceral fear. The assumption often is, if guns are present, someone is going to get hurt. This often makes it difficult to have a constructive discussion about the use of guns and gun safety. The reaction to guns in general is a strong factor in the consideration of whether grounds monitors in the Saratoga Springs School District should be armed.

Opposition To Arming Monitors

 One of the main fears often expressed by those who oppose the arming of grounds monitors is that a gun will be accidently discharged and cause innocent people to be injured. Shafer Gaston makes this point in a recent post on this blog.

Gaston noted that there are approximately 500 deaths per year attributed to gun accidents. He adds that even trained police have accidents.  To support this he links to a web site associated with Police Magazine which is a police trade journal.  The web page has anecdotal reports of police accidents but regrettably provides no statistics.  The incidents appear to all be from the last two years  and some occurred in other countries. Not all involve actual wounding or death.   Only one documented incident occurred in a school and no one was injured.

Mr. Gaston is on the mark when he asserts that the availability of guns introduces the risk of accident.  Nevertheless, I would expect Mr. Gaston would acknowledge that the issue is not that simple.   He asserts that “weapons should only be introduced when the risk of accident is outweighed by the needs of security.” So the challenge lies in assessing both the risk of accidents if monitors are armed and the risk to students if monitors are not armed and an active shooter incident occurs. Statistics can help in trying to make these assessments but they are not the only source of information to consider.

One candidate for the School Board told me that the risk of arming the monitors was such that at the recent community meeting on safety, the District’s insurance agency had recommended against it. This turned out not to be true. The insurance representative instead told the audience “I can lean either way…..It’s a governance issue.” Here is a link to the video of the meeting. The insurance representative can be heard discussing the issue between 1:11:33 and 1:13:33

 

So what are the factors that increase or decrease the potential threat of an accidental discharge of a gun?

It would seem it is not necessarily the number of guns present that may increase the risk of an accidental shooting but the degree to which those handling the guns are trained to handle them safely.  I would argue that a gun in a home where none of the family members are trained in gun safety poses a greater risk of an accidental shooting than in a police station even though there are many more guns present but where there is a culture of gun safety and on-going and extensive training in the handling of guns.

 In fact, Mr. Gaston acknowledges that there are mitigating factors regarding the risk of guns.  I exchanged emails with Mr. Gaston and learned that he supports having armed SROs at the high school and the middle school.  In fact, the school board members who voted to disarm monitors also voted to add an additional SRO to the school district.  So the actual policy being debated in the school district is not whether any armed personnel should be allowed in our schools but who and how many should be armed. [JK: The issue of SROs and their training is complicated and will be discussed in a future blog post]

I asked Mr. Gaston if he supported SROs at all the Saratoga Springs School District schools.  He responded that he did not.  He believes that there is less need for a law enforcement presence with elementary aged children and that those schools are very secure. He also believes that the interaction between the elementary schools and the local police is both frequent and positive.  He also believes that the cost associated with supporting that many SROs is prohibitive and makes no sense.

 So Mr. Gaston and School Board members do not oppose having armed personnel in the schools. They are only on the record for opposing arming the school monitors.

Who Should be Armed?

Let’s understand that monitors have been providing the basic security for the school district for three decades.  They oversee the arrival and departure of students to insure their safety given the presence of moving buses and other vehicles.  They spend much of their time patrolling the school grounds to intercept persons who should not be on the school grounds and occasionally to intercept students inappropriately trying to leave the school.  Over the decades they have dealt with petty theft, broken up fights, and dealt with contraband drugs.  Their efforts have helped create an environment that has allowed the teachers to focus on teaching.  In fact, they continue to perform this function today.  The fact is that the monitors have encountered conflict in the course of their work for years.  The difference now is that they are no longer armed.  As far as I can tell, no one has suggested eliminating their positions.

It is my understanding that the district also involves them in some training programs to provide them with support.  They will be participating in a training program focused on “de-escalation” which I take to be how to calm potentially volatile events.

The Saratoga Springs Police Department began addressing active shooting issues decades ago.  “Active Shooter” incidents involve everything from domestic violence to robberies.  Given the increasing incidents of shootings at schools, this began to be a significant focus.  This training which often involves simulations often at schools, occurs multiple times each year.

Since most of the monitors currently employed at the district are retired police officers they have been extensively trained during their careers in dealing with armed threats.  While people may legitimately argue over the extent that they should go through refresher training, as retired veterans these men/women are not rookies.  During their long careers they have had to carry a side arm and be prepared for its potential use on a daily basis.  As active police they were required to re-qualify to carry their weapon annually.

The fact that the monitors have a record of thirty years without unholstering a gun let alone discharging it, reflects the vigorous culture of gun safety in which they trained and lived.

This, however, is not the only consideration regarding whether they should be armed.

The grim reality is that most school shootings unfold quickly.  Given the lethal nature of weapons currently available to the public, an assailant operating in a school with its dense population is able to inflict a great deal of harm quickly.

 I recently spoke with a highly respected retired police officer whose career included serving in a management capacity.  He shared with me the difficulties that police would encounter trying to address an on-going shooting at a school.  First, they would need to find a secure place to park their car that would not impede other police and emergency vehicles that might follow them.  They would then need to find and put on their helmet and locate and secure their tactical weapon.  In spite of the fact that they may have participated in exercises at the school, they would not be highly familiar with it.  They would need to approach the school with great caution both to protect themselves and to insure that they did nothing to jeopardize the lives of the students and staff.  He emphasized what a challenging environment a school is.  His essential point was that even if they were near the school when they got the call, it would take them some time to effectively engage the threat.

He noted that the monitors would already be at the school.  The monitors are intimately knowledgeable about the geography of the school.  They also know many of the people in the school and while they may not know everyone, they will be able to distinguish quickly many people who are not a threat whereas the police responding to the call will have no way of easily assessing anyone they encounter with the exception of the monitors who are dressed to indicate their role as safety staff.

In life there are many things that involve risk. As stated before, the choice before the community is essentially which risk they are willing to live with. Reasonable people will disagree  on how to answer this question.  While additional  “soft protections” should be explored and implemented, in the end these measures may mitigate the chance of a shooting incident but they will not eliminate it. The critical need for a rapid response should a shooting incident occur outweighs for me the risk of having armed monitors on site on a regular basis.

 How Many Should Be Armed?

 In addition to the question of whether to re-arm the monitors,  the other question facing the district is how many armed officers should the district employ?

The district currently employs two armed SROs who are stationed at the High School and Middle School. This provides coverage during the school day to the high school and middle school but leaves the elementary schools uncovered. The SROs do not provide  coverage for events occurring outside of the school day such as sports events which the monitors still cover unarmed.

Mr. Shafer reflects many in the community who oppose extending coverage to include these other areas.

Others such as Saratoga Parents for School Safety are seeking comprehensive coverage of all schools.

Ed Cubanski who is a candidate supported by Saratoga Parents For Safe Schools advocates employing SROs in all the schools.  He estimates the cost to be roughly $500,000.00.

There are some who would like to rearm the monitors and have them make up the coverage which would potentially be less expensive.

How this would be paid for is unclear.  There has been some discussion about the use of grants but it is rare that grants cover ongoing costs.  [JK: I will be discussing the funding issue in a separate post].

To be continued…

 

 

10 thoughts on “Guns or No Guns: Is That Really the Question? Part 2—The Controversy Over Arming Monitors”

  1. Mr. Gaston doesn’t believe in having equal protection at all Schools. Only the high school and middle school kids deserve protection.

    Of course experts in the filed, like the ones at NASRO and the ones that drafted the Marjory Stoneman Douglas after action report recommend AT LEAST one armed person at every school.

    It was comforting to see the NYC Democrat’s codify these suggestions by making passing a bill that would allow active and retired cops to carry concealed while working security in a school.

    I only wish the anti-school safety crowd in Saratoga Springs were as rationale as the Democrats in NYC

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    1. Mr. Gaston believes in using the same practices that are accepted throughout New York State. No comparable school district that he knows of has a an SRO in every elementary school. Instead, they use amazing technologies such as ‘locking doors’ and ‘identification checks’ to prevent unauthorized access.

      If Mr. Gaston wanted to raise his kids in Florida schools, he would have moved to Florida. Mr. Gaston also likes such silly things as ‘teacher unions’, ‘inclusivity training’, ‘expert-informed policy’, and other liberal hogwash that “Rob” seems to find distasteful, because it makes these schools significantly better than the ones in Florida (among other places).

      The fact is, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas has shown, an SRO is not what is going to prevent a school shooting, unless you want to put an armed agent in every space. The value of the SRO is in the interaction between law enforcement and the school system; because we do not live in “Rob”‘s Wild West fantasy, there is simply not a justification for adding that many people into the schools when the event they would be reacting to (not preventing) is itself so rare.

      It is amazing, but unsurprising in the days of Fox News, that those with so little experience in safety or security continue to harangue those of us with numbers, facts, and training.

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      1. Locking doors & ID checks? Like they had at Sandy Hook? How did that one work out?

        Response time matters, whether you want to believe it, or not.

        The police arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary in 4 minutes, entered the building in 10 and still dozens were killed.

        What is the police response time in Saratoga Springs? 7.7 minutes.

        Parents in Saratoga Springs do not want their children to have to wait 7-10 minutes before help arrives.

        Every precaution, every preparation should be taken to protect out kids in the schools.

        The lessons to be learned from MSD are written clearly in the commission report; http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/MSDHS/CommissionReport.pdf

        Those experts suggest AT LEAST one armed person in every school, including elementary schools. And they go further to suggest that there be enough security to provide ample backup in the case of an active assailant situation.

        This just so happens to be the same recommendations from our local experts, the Saratoga Springs PD & the Sheriff’s Office. And also happens to be the standard that Saratoga set for itself, 30 years ago.

        To quote John Catone, Asst. Chief of Police in Saratoga Springs, “The school boards decision to disarm the grounds monitors made our schools LESS SAFE”

        I understand that the experts in the field of security differ from the academics and their “D” level studies.

        But when given the choice, I will side with the experts in the field every single time.

        While you want to make this issue about politics, gun control, Fox News, Left vs. Right, reasonable parents in Saratoga Springs will focus on school safety. We will return our schools to the same level of security that they have enjoyed for the past 30 years.

        Safety should transcend partisan politics.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am always baffled when anyone equates the issue of security to that of “Fox News” supporters, or more specifically, republicans? The subject of school safety transcends partisan politics and should be kept as such. My children’s safety, and that of teachers, administration and staff does not hinge, nor is it dependent upon whether my politics are left or right leaning. Additionally, I am appreciative of Mr. Gaston’s reference to “expert informed policy” and would remind him of the December 18th security forum in which law enforcement experts brought in to testify On this subject strenuously informed our Board of Education that without the additional security protection which they had removed from Saratoga schools, our children were now “less safe”. I would agree with Mr. Gaston that we need to heed these experts advice and thank him for pointing that out. I also appreciate his calling to attention what this debate is really about in his comments regarding “reaction/prevention”. Having professional armed and trained personnel on our campuses is about mitigating response time in the event of an emergency situation. While, I would not trivialize such a tragedy as Parkand by equating it to a “Wild West” scenario, it certainly highlights the need for immediate response in the event of an emergency situation. The justification for eliminating a 7 minute wait time is simply loss of life.
    And finally, in regards to comparisons to other schools within NY state, I would urge Mr. Gaston to research not only neighboring schools, but schools statewide. In removing armed security from our children, Saratoga is in the minority. Most schools, both locally and nationally, are making every attempt at increased security measures. Why Saratoga seems to be taking the opposite stance is also, truly baffling.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I would like to add that while having locked doors and identification checks are great, they are just a portion of what keeps our teachers and kids safe. In all the schools I have worked, the kids are most at risk during entry and dismissal that no locked door can protect them from. Add to that, most schools have the children outdoors at recess as well as other times. These kids are clearly at risk during those times. Where there is a campus such as several of the Ballston Spa schools perhaps one SRO would be appropriate. In Saratoga, each elementary school stands on its own and in some the recess area is right on or very close the road. One day while subbing at Lake Ave. my 4th graders were out for recess. A car came down the road, very slowly and I’ll be honest, it made me very uncomfortable. What would I have been able to do if that person had been intent on hurting one or more of those kids that I was charged with teaching and protecting? Would I have liked an SRO there to call on immediately? You bet! (turns out the guy kept on going and there was nothing I needed to do THAT TIME)

    Add to this, I’ve been in a lock-in and a lockout -thankfully no lockdown yet. In neither case did we know what happened or why the students could not either come in (the first was during the time the kids get off the bus) or why they could not go home (the other was during dismissal). I saw the anxiety in the face of those 4th graders. Knowing there was some sort of danger, would I have felt more comfortable with an SRO on grounds. Again, YOU BET!

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  4. This is going to fall on deaf ears, but your “level of comfort” isn’t safety, and the “guy you know up the street who happens to be a cop” isn’t an expert. The Fox News comment isn’t “partisan”, its symptomatic of a culture in which we want to trust some ‘local source’ rather than studied facts. You want to listen to “common sense” instead of science.

    We didn’t put a man on the moon by having every amateur mechanical engineer sit at home and design rockets. Against common sense, we shoved potentially toxic materials in our bodies – and we got rid of smallpox. Despite what car manufacturers claimed, we put airbags in cars because that’s what the science said would work – and it saved lives. Science and research aren’t partisan, although partisan people will discard inconvenient facts to advance their agenda. Science and research are what makes modern civilization possible – we study issues and learn and improve, using the limited resources we have at our disposal to best application.

    If you can show me a school system equivalent to Saratoga Springs in terms of quality of outcomes for students, size, and resources, with an SRO in every elementary school, I would be willing to consider your position, but I can’t find one anywhere, and I don’t think you can either or you would have mentioned it by now. All I know is that the expert organization for insuring the safety of my children at school has said that we are in the top 5% in one of the safest states in the nation – I see no reason to rock the boat over someone’s feelings.

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    1. An SRO in every elementary school, no. An armed guard in every school including elementary, yes. Here is one from Long Island, NY. They aren’t the only one btw.

      https://www.newsday.com/long-island/education/west-babylon-schools-security-guards-parkland-1.27279656

      Regarding your statements on science and facts, the problem is that all research isn’t created equal. Study design is the most important when evaluating study outcomes. In the case of the data referenced by Reynolds et al. the study design is just one of the many flaws which leave us to conclude that the study outcomes aren’t likely reproducible in the general population.

      This is exactly why the Congressional Research Service has said “Thus far, no publicly available research has evaluated whether SRO’s serve as an effective deterrent to school shootings or whether SROs reduce the loss of life when school shootings occur. In part, this may be due to methodological challenges when trying to measure things, in this case school shootings and deaths due to school shootings that did not happen.” Congressional Research Service July 2018; https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/R45251.html

      Therefore, in the face of limited to no real data on the issue, ill trust the guys in the field and their expert opinion.

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    2. First, I truly don’t know why you find starting a discussion post with snark will get you heard. It tends to be a turn off before I read any more. As for facts, just because we are in the safest state doesn’t negate the potential danger. I also, choose not to sit on those laurels until something terrible happens. And, I’m not talking about “some cop down the street”, I’m talking about properly trained and certified SROs. And, my statements are not based only on “feelings” as you put it. I listened to the law enforcement experts who spoke and I think they have more experience and knowledge than even you do. I tend to combine common sense with science/facts. So, despite your apparent low estimate of me with little experience or knowledge of me, I do think critically (actually teach this skill at the college level) and don’t take any one position as gospel. That said, you can have your opinion yet please understand – no matter what you based it on – it is still an opinion and others are entitled to disagree with you. And, if I could give you one suggestion – one I’m sure you will find useless but I’ll give a shot – if you want to be heard or taken seriously a little less arrogance and self-importance would be a good idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The proverbial “boat” has already been “rocked”. That happened when the BOE voted to remove armed monitors that were in place for over 20 years, without incident, over someone’s “feelings”. The Saratoga Springs BOE has yet to release any data, research or information which lead to their decision but have certainly expressed their “feelings” on the matter. The 5% statistic in which you are willing to gamble upon is false reassurance. Parents, students, teachers and staff in Columbine, Parkland and Sandy-Hook also believed that such a tragedy would never befall their community as well. Sadly, we should hope for the best but prepare for the worst. In order to be prepared, we must mitigate response times in the event of an emergency. What is undeniable and fact is this: Minutes, even seconds, save lives.

    Liked by 2 people

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