Transcript: Remarks by Asa Hutchinson on the NRA-funded task force’s recommendation to arm teachers in schools

Transcript of remarks by Asa Hutchinson, Director of the NRA-funded National School Shield Task Force, on recommendations to arm teachers and school personnel at a press briefing on April 2, 2013:

Good morning, I’m Asa Hutchinson, Director of the National School Shield Task Force, and I welcome you to this important presentation of our national effort to increase school safety.

Last December, I received a call from the NRA, who asked if I would be interested in doing something – leading a national effort on school safety. We arrived at an agreement, which is my mandate, and the agreement is that we would have full independence, that we would not have any pre-conceived conditions or pre-determined outcomes, and thirdly that we would have the full support that we needed to employ the experts to develop a review of our national efforts on school safety and to make the recommendations that we believe, as experts, were appropriate.

I’m here to tell you that the NRA has fulfilled its side of the bargain and has given us the level of independence; it has given us the support that’s needed to reach the product that we are presenting today and even to the point that there’s no guarantee that the NRA will accept these recommendations.

These recommendations are the recommendations of the task force. This is our event, and the NRA will separately consider and respond to it.

I did want to introduce the task force members that are here present today, and we’re delighted that some of them have joined us – not all of them – but on the first row is Ralph Basham. Ralph – where are you? Over there beside, former Director of the United States Secret Service, former Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, former Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Truly an expert in the field of law enforcement and security.

We also have retired Gen. John Quattrone, U.S. Air Force Security Forces Officer, three-time Commander, Former Joint Staff Operations Antiterrorism/Homeland Defense Directorate, the Pentagon.

Tony Lambraia, CEO of Phoenix RBT Solutions.

Bruce Bowen, Former Deputy Director of U.S. Secret Service, Former Assistant Director of Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Thomas Dinanno, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Critical Infrastructure Protection of the United States Department of Homeland Security…

These are some of the members of the task force that has arrived at this report, and today I’m pleased to release the 225-page comprehensive report of the National School Shield Initiative. This report includes everything from best practices to technology, to a review of surveillance. It includes the recommendations that I will present later in this presentation.

The process that we went through is that for over 3 months – the past 3 months – these experts have engaged in assessments of multiple schools of a variety of sizes, of composition. They have done comprehensive assessments and evaluations of best practices and vulnerabilities.

We’ve also conducted interviews of people who are knowledgeable in the field. I want to recognize Augustine Pescatore, who is President of the National Association of School Security Officials but also a commander of school security in the Philadelphia School District. Thank you, Augie, for joining us – an example of one of the experts in the field that just offered their base of knowledge to us.

This morning, I want to go through the – some of the findings for the school assessments and then the current state of school security, and then I’ll present our recommendations from the task force.

We’ll also have at the end a comment from a special guest and then we’ll open it up for questions and answer.

First of all, in the assessments, I want to cover some of the things that we found – the vulnerabilities and best practices. Again, we looked at the technology of the schools. We looked at the interior and exterior doors, access controls, architecture and designs of the schools. And then we looked at the armed officers, whether it’s an SRO, which is a school resource officer, to the staff that may be armed or considering being armed, and obviously, we believe they make a difference in the various layers of security that add to school safety.

We also found something, I think, very significant. We want to remind of today that there’s really a two-tier system of security in our schools.

You have the security that’s represented by the largest school districts that have invested over really decades in school officers, in technology and surveillance, in magnetometers, in policy development.

And then you have the different tier of school safety which are the smaller schools, the middle-sized schools – those that have resource challenges. And they’re – really, you’ve got to get outside the Beltway. They’re part of the major focus that we have to have in school safety in our country and many of the recommendations are directed at those schools that are trying to do something in school safety but are struggling with the resources to do it.

Whenever you look at the findings that be a part of this report – we look at perimeter fencing, for example, and you’ll see that the common vulnerability is that there are not adequate perimeter fencing for a school and ones that do might not be in proper repair.

In the terms of access control or the use of technology that is needed to have a single point of access for visitors to check in and to show the identification, we looked at the surveillance monitoring and we find that many of them have surveillance cameras but the monitoring might be at the ceiling level rather than at the eye level – a simple change that is a vulnerability but that can be done better.

You look at the exterior doors which are so critical for delaying any armed intruder and some of them do not have a hinge coverings to protect the exterior door.

When you look at the locking mechanism – is there an anti-carding plate for the door, which is not expensive but a very important tool to provide greater security for our teachers and our students in the classroom.

The interior doors and windows in our best practices that we’ve laid out, it showed some of the state-of-the-art design for interior doors and, of course, the windows that are so often go around an interior door. Are they strengthened? Are they sufficient to protect against an intruder?

The bus operations – something that is really neglected, I believe, in school safety discussions where at the end of the school day all the buses line up to pick up the students and there’s better practices for how the buses are lined so you do not congregate students in one place and to have greater staff support for the students as they load and unload from the buses.

We looked at the personnel badges and many schools require badges for their staff but sometimes they’re not worn.

Those are some of the findings that were related to SRO training – what a great program for our school resource officers but there’s some enhancements in training that can improve not just their training and capability but also their coordination with law enforcement.

And then the armed security staff – not every school has school resource officers and there’s a movement actually to consider armed security staff and that’d be part of our recommendations.

Also the findings were referencing managing threat information, which really goes to the mental health side of the school environment, whether there’s proper collection of threat information, analysis of it, and response, whether it is a referral to law enforcement or whether it is through the action of counselors in addressing any particular mental health challenge in the schools.

There is a 100-page compilation as an appendix to this report of the best practices that we found around the nation and not just independent finding but also reflecting some of the work of the Department of Justice, Department of Education, and Department of Homeland Security and pulling that together in this tool that can be utilized.

Now, let me move to the recommendations of our task force. And first, these recommendations are – have three audiences. First would be to the NRA – the National Rifle Association – for program development and long-term support in the area of school safety to reflect their strong commitment in that area. Second one would be to state policymakers because there’s going to be some requirements for changes in state law. And the third audience is the federal policymakers as they are currently debating funding and assistance to the states in the area of school safety.

Our first recommendation is for model training programs. We’ve presented a model training program for school resource officers that is an enhancement of what they currently undertake and are required. It’s 40 to 50 hours – 40 to 60 hours of comprehensive training for the school resource officers that covers everything from weapons retention to coordination with local law enforcement, and that is an appendix in the presentation.

We also have prepared for the first time that I’m aware of a model training program for selected and designated armed school personnel. Now, this is probably the one item that catches everybody’s attention.

Now, why are we – is this part of our recommendations that we have this model training program?

First of all, there is the incident in Pearl High School in 1997 where an active shooter entered the school and killed two students and wounded others. There was no school resource officer. The assistant principal, Joe Myrick, left the school, went out to his truck, and retrieved his .45 caliber semi-automatic firearm, returned to the school and disarmed the assailant. And that’s an example of where the response is critical and that is what disarmed the assailant and saved lives.

And the key is reducing that response time. If that Joe Myrick had been trained, if he had had access on his person, he might have saved more lives even in that instance.

And so one of the findings of the team is – went through one school that did not have school resource officers and they were already planning to arm school staff for the protection of the kids.

But whenever the inquire is made and said what kind of training do you have? It was clearly insufficient training, and schools are undergoing that process all across America right now without adequate direction on what is a good training program – a model training program – for armed school personnel.

Let me emphasize, this is not talking about all teachers. Teachers should teach. But if there is a personnel that has good experience, that has an interest in it, and is willing to go through this training of, again, 40 to 60 hours that is totally comprehensive, then that is an appropriate resource that a school should be able to utilize.

The second recommendation is that we have to adopt a – states need to consider changing the law so that it allows the firearm to be carried by school personnel when they go through this model training program. And so we’ve attached as an appendix a model state law that can be considered for this very purpose by the various states.

The third recommendation is an inter-agency agreement for between the law enforcement agency and the school. You’ve heard the concern that police personnel or armed guards in the school somehow increase the episode of juvenile delinquency and reporting of disciplinary action as criminal offenses rather than treating them as routine school disciplinary issues. This is an internal issue as to how you manage your SROs and so they need to have clear understandings reflected in a memorandum of understanding between the school and the law enforcement agency.

The fourth recommendation is a critical tool. It is an online self-assessment tool that is web-based that the schools can utilize free of charge that will be on the National School Shield website. This online assessment tool has been summarized in the document we’re presenting. But right now, schools either have to go out and hire an expert or they struggle around with local law enforcement to develop their security policies.

This online assessment tool is available for any school – parochial, private, or public school – free of charge on the website whenever it is deployed, and it will not be something a principal can fill out; the school will have to get key access to go on this web-based tool and when they do they’ll be asked questions on access control. Are classroom doors kept locked during instructional times? Does the school enforce its visitor sign-in and access control? Has the school staff been trained to question or challenge a visitor that’s not properly badged? What actions are taken when unauthorized visitors are detected? Those are just a sample of the questions that lead them to understand the gaps in their own security and then they go to the best practices that will also be available to them to address and figure out the solutions for their security policies.

Recommendation number five is a change in state education adequacy policies. Right now, we define in our states education adequacy based upon what kind of course curriculum that the students take. A key part of an adequate education in every school district in America is they have done a safety assessment and they have a safety and security plan that is in place. And so that is a recommendation for the states to make that a requirement of adequacy in education not mandating what a school should do but that they do something in terms of assessment and development of an adequate.

The sixth recommendation is to the federal policymakers that we need to have improved federal coordination and more directed funding. When I talk about improved coordination, we have three departments in the federal government that are all engaged in school safety in some means – Education, Justice, and Homeland Security. Many of these programs overlap or duplications. They need to have a lead agency and they need to have greater coordination.

And as part of our recommendation on the funding side, our recommendation is the federal role is greater support for innovation, for technology and training grants. The states, the school districts have absorbed historically the costs and I believe they’re prepared to do that, and so the federal role should be focused on innovation, training and better coordination.

The seventh recommendation is to the NRA and that is that the National Shield Organization – National School Shield become an umbrella organization to advocate and support school safety across this nation through the free access to the web-based assessment, to the best practices that will be available to the schools, and to create pilot programs both to fine tune the assessment tool but also even to look at pilot programs in mental health, and then hopefully to offer technical consultations for member schools that can help direct them to the right security solutions and to answer questions. We recommend a long-term commitment through the National School Shield.

Finally, the eighth recommendation is that we have a specific pilot program on threat assessment and mental health. The United States Secret Service when they released their study found that 71% of attackers felt threatened or bullied. That’s not an excuse but it is a pre-indicator as to steps that a school can take to identify a threat but also have proper mental health responses in the school environment. So we recommend the NSS – the National School Shield partnering with other national partners interested in mental health and that we can create programs in schools that will be state-of-the-art, encourage information sharing, a climate that reduces instances of bullying and anti-social behavior, identifying threats, and offering counseling support.

Those are the eight recommendations. This has been a brief review of those. Please read the report that is accessible online, of course, and finally, please give close attention to the appendices that are attached to it.

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