by Michelle Henderson 4/24/18
Training the School Resource Officer: Responding to the Worst-Case Scenarios in Seconds
School-based law enforcement, known best as School Resource Officers (SROs), typically must play a “triad” of adult roles: counselor and teacher as well as cop. Yet in a moment of unexpected violence, they must shift from the nurturing and authoritative aspects to become first responders.1
A recent event in Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County in southern Maryland shows how an astute, rapid response can save lives. On the morning of March 20, 2018, Deputy Blaine Gaskill, a school resource officer, quickly confronted an active shooter, shooting him in the hand. While the assailant put his gun to his head and died of a self-inflicted wound, Gaskill’s intervention may well have saved multiple lives. “He responded exactly how we train our personnel to respond,” St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron told reporters.2
Gaskill, 34, a SWAT-trained officer with six years on the job, had followed guidelines in first trying to de-escalate the situation by entreating the gunman to drop his firearm.3
Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida attack, SROs like Gaskill seem to be more in demand. A Fox News Poll, taken March 18-21 of more than 1,000 randomly sampled registered voters, found that 69 percent were in favor of putting armed guards in schools.4
This increase in attention has been growing for years. School-based policing is the fastest-growing area of law enforcement, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), whose membership has swelled to 3,000 around the globe.5
Trained SROs: A dangerous problem of supply and demand
Meanwhile, supply is struggling to keep up with demand. SROs normally must come from publicly funded police and sheriff departments. Leadership must determine how many of their force they can devote to school duty. Then comes the difficult task of determining how to cover a school system: Which schools can have their own dedicated SRO? Which officers must cover multiple schools and, critically, what is the driving time between their assignments? Which SROs are full-fledged law enforcement personnel with access to active-shooter training and best practices?
Considering an incident can happen anywhere at any time, numbers have yet to become encouraging. A U.S. Department of Education study released in July 2017 reveals the gaps that must be overcome for adequate protection. As of the 2015-16 school year, only 42 percent of all U.S. public schools had full- or part-time security present at least once a week. Looking more closely, one finds that half that number were part time. Only 10.9 percent had a full-time, sworn law enforcement officer, who can be presumed to have rigorous training.6 According to NASRO, in contrast to a security guard, an SRO must be a sworn law enforcement officer on detail from an agency.
How then does the nation close this gap? Lt. Joe Messersmith of the Dubuque (IA) Police Department has framed the issue clearly: “If we wanted to, we could put a cop in every single school, but that’s just not practical because somebody [has to] be patrolling the neighborhoods that these kids are going to be spending the other two-thirds of their day in.”7
The answer is obviously that communities require additional funding for staffing. More than five years have passed since the Sandy Hook (Newton, CT) tragedy, when Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association CEO, called for congressional funding to have armed guards in every school. With more than two out of three registered voters now seeking SROs for their schools, change seems imminent, In February, U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) called for increased funding for properly trained SROs.8
The STOP School Violence Act of 2018 is a step in that direction. Passing the House and Senate in late March by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, it provides measures to improve school safety infrastructure while strengthening relationships and training among law enforcement and the educational community. It also includes provisions for state grants that can possibly be used for hiring more SROs. In fact, one provision prohibits firearms training. Hence, the extent to which this measure can overcome the gap of trained law enforcement in schools requires further attention.9
Virtual Simulation: Customizable active-shooter school scenarios
A common reaction to school violence among teachers, students and parents is, “We never thought it would happen here.” Columbine, Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas are removed from inner-city streets where violence can be an unfortunate factor in day-to-day life. Yet any school-based arms presence, whether sworn law enforcement officers or security guards, must remain constantly attuned to any sign of an unexpected event that endangers their assigned educational institution.
The challenge of training SROs and other armed personnel is that they work at a remote location from a training facility, yet need to participate in a complex active-shooter scenario that directly relates to their setting.
Meggitt Training Systems answers this challenge with the FATS® 100P, an immersive virtual training system with customizable scenarios and easy portability. The 100P delivers advanced functionality, including enhanced graphics, for both instructor and trainee. SROs can even blend their individual school imagery and floor plans with scenarios. Organizations have a choice of using one of Meggitt’s carefully crafted school scenarios or taking advantage of integrated video authoring that allows the instructor to create, edit, score, load and run customer videos locally filmed in familiar locations. The filming can be as simple as video from a cellphone.
Because SROs must respond quickly and accurately, the 100P delivers weapon-handling and shot-placement analytics along with marksmanship automatic coaching tools. Indeed, one might expect this kind of functionality from a much larger platform. Yet, portable and light, the FATS® 100P can go to school settings via a rugged hand-carry case the size of a large range bag. One person has the ease of transportation, set up and operation.
The value of the 100P goes beyond the active-shooter scenario. A key part of SRO training is judgmental use-of-force training. Toward that end, the 100P employs customizable high-definition video scenarios to produce dynamic escalation and de-escalation. The SRO must survey and react to verbal cues, facial expressions and overall body language to quickly assess a situation and interact with individuals using proper verbal commands and perishable skills training.
Where virtual and real-world threats meet
The 100P scenarios, whether chosen from Meggitt’s library or self-authored, incorporate whole-task training that facilitates the transfer of skills learned during simulation into real-world situations. Similarly, the lightweight 100P can also support up to six weapons that might be used by an SRO: Meggitt’s realistic BlueFire® (Bluetooth, untethered) weapons, Dvorak or laser insert weapons, Tasers® and chemical spray.
Simulation has additional benefits to physical preparation. Training contributes to the mental preparation necessary for the terrifying situations of “lockdown” and “code red.” The speed of an event is relatively incomprehensible except in retrospect. At Great Mills, only seven minutes transpired between the assailant’s initial attack and Gaskill’s confrontation. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting lasted six minutes. Sandy Hook (Newton), the worst school massacre, was over in five minutes.
Clearly an SRO must be able to respond instantly, but with the presence of mind to gather situational awareness and take the right action. Only training can make that possible.
The bottom line: More officers. Better trained.
Rep. Comstock sums up the issue: “As I have talked with local law enforcement and Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, it is apparent that school resource officers are an important part of the solution to stopping school violence that can be expanded in our schools as well as schools around the Commonwealth and the country. Many schools still do not have the benefit of SROs. These important officers not only protect our schools, but are also the eyes and ears for local law enforcement to make sure that those who want to harm our children are stopped before they are able to perpetrate a crime.”
For more information on how Meggitt Training Systems can help your SRO program, please email MGTTS-LEVirtualSales@meggitt.com
1A discussion on switching roles can be found in “School Officer: A Job With Many Roles and One Big Responsibility,” by Stephanie Saul et al, New York Times, March 4, 2018 at www.cnn.com retrieved on 3/28/2018.
2See www.cnn.com retrieved on 3/28/2018.
3See “A Hero Thwarts a School Shooting in Maryland,” by Jack Crowe, National Review Online, March 21, 2018 at www.nationalreview.com retrieved on 3/28/18
4For complete poll results, see www.foxnews.com
5For more information on NASRO, visit nasro.org
6For a more thorough look at the statistics, see Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16, First Look, U.S. Department of Education, July 2017, which can be found at nces.ed.gov
7For the full story on Dubuque’s attempts to provide SRO coverage, see www.kcrg.com
8Rep. Comstock’s statement, which contains a comprehensive discussion of SROs can be found here: comstock.house.gov
9For details on the Act, see www.campussafetymagazine.com