The first post in this series addressed general principles for identifying and analyzing possible regulatory actions that either could have prevented Sandy Hook or prevent future such events. The next post discussed, in general terms, the regulatory option of changing physical security at elementary schools.
Today we consider changes in personal security at elementary schools — the alternative of enhancing elementary school security by adding security personnel.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre delivered a speech on December 21 proposing that Congress “appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.” Regardless of what opinion one might have of LaPierre or the NRA, the provision of school resource officers (SROs) is an alternative that can be analyzed on the merits.
The general idea is a well established one. A 2010 Department of Justice report says “nearly half of all public schools have assigned police officers as
SROs and that nearly 17,000 police officers are so assigned. Moreover, this practice comes with a federal blessing in the forms of substantial federal funding. Program evaluation lags behind, however, for “despite their popularity, few systematic evaluations of the effectiveness of SROs exist.”
Had an SRO Been Assigned to Sandy Hook, Would the Massacre Have Been Prevented?
The answer, of course, is we do not know, and there is no way for us to know. To have a chance to be effective, an SRO must be in the right place at the right time. One can only speculate as to whether an SRO could have prevented any or all of the Sandy Hook shootings, such as by returning fire.
To the extent that police response time matters, SROs would offer significantly improvements.According to the NewsTimes (Danbury CT), which reviewed and authenticated a 2-hour recording of the event, the initial emergency call resulted in substantial confusion. (A partial transcript is here.)
The call came in at 9:35 am; it was cryptic, perhaps reflecting the obvious duress of the situation; first responders did not enter the school until about 10:00 am; and much of the information they had been given was incorrect and misleading. An SRO would be more likely to have good situational awareness and obviously be more familiar with the facility. Even if circumstances had prevented an SRO from directly engaging, he probably could have provided better information.
Would SROs Prevent Future Sandy Hooks?
The effectiveness of SROs in preventing mass shootings at schools may be impossible to estimate. Such events are rare and idiosyncratic even without SROs. assigned. A proper analysis is required to ascertain the conditions under which SROs would be a cost-effective security measure. Even if there are circumstances where SRO would be a cost-effective form of additional security, chances are they would not be cost-effective in elementary schools located in small towns with very low violent crime rates.