School safety must be our priority

Published 9:55 am Monday, December 31, 2012

By KEN BURCHFIELD / Guest Columnist

I believe that I have seen evil manifested many times in my life and professional career. I have experienced both personal and professional grief as a result of that evil. As I watched the horrible events unfold at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my belief was reinforced again.

Safe communities and the safety of my own children have been my responsibility for a long time. With one child still in elementary school, it was easy to personalize the fear and grief I saw on the parents’ faces in Connecticut. I could also empathize with the first responders as they entered that nightmare. Their lives have been changed forever, and they all face a long, difficult recovery.

The phenomenon of school shootings is not new. Pearl, Miss. in 1997 and Littleton, Colo. in 1999 are two of the most well known. We are about 15 years down the road from those horrible events, but since then there have been many more, so many so that professionals in many disciplines have developed causal models, response plans and survival strategies to deal with them.

These mass murders have become almost common — yet what have we actually done to protect the little ones we love the most?

We debate the causes. We speak of gun control and violent video games. We debate the mandated removal of religion and prayer from schools. Law enforcement and school administrators train to react to these horrible events. But what have we done to actually prevent a similar event from happening in our schools, to our children?

I do not hold myself to be an expert on school shootings, but I have met some, like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (U.S. Army retired), and heard them speak of both causation and prevention.

The sad truth is that law enforcement today cannot protect your children at school with any certainty.

Their training is focused on a quick response with an immediate reaction to the shooting in an effort to limit the number of victims. To truly protect students, the schools will need to be “hardened,” which would require changes to the schools themselves and the addition of at least one well-armed and dedicated law enforcement officer standing in the gap between your child’s safety and insanity every day.

But which schools do we harden? Public schools? Private schools? Private for-profit daycare centers? Although we think of the people who commit these crimes as insane — and some are — they seem to be functional and capable of rational thought.

If we stand vigilant at the door of every public school, will they not just go to the unprotected private school down the street?

And here is the ugly question.

Who pays for all the new doors at the schools and the salaries of the men and women standing in the gap? Our nation is broke, our state is broke, some counties are broke, and every law enforcement agency and board of education is already under-funded. What are our priorities?

If history predicts the future, we, as a nation, have many more school shootings ahead of us. We can either accept that as reality or make our children’s safety a priority and harden the schools. It is that simple. Except for the grace of God, it can happen in Shelby County just like it happened in Newtown.

Ken Burchfield is a captain with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. This column is Burchfield’s opinion alone and is not intended to reflect the views of the sheriff’s department as a whole.