Getting Educated: Security Services Professionals
"I am a combination of counselor and big brother to the kids -- a person they can come talk to when they need to bend an ear or vent frustrations." - J.D. Jones, Special Law Enforcement Officer, Fayette, Kentucky
Who are We?
Years ago, school security was traditionally treated not as a separate and respected discipline but as an additional duty that could be handled by anyone in a school with free time. Teachers and aides "policed" hallways when not in the classroom, and principals provided the "last line of defense" in the form of disciplinary action or by calling parents or the police.
But today, school security is more important than ever; a front-burner issue for most educators, students, and citizens who are still affected from the rash of school shootings in the late 1990s. Today's schools face not only student aggression, drugs and weapons, and gangs, but also a new threat of terrorism in the wake of Sept. 11 and the United States conflict with Iraq.
It's no surprise then that school security officers stand on the front line for protecting America's children. Various forms of security staffing are being used at schools across the country:
- School security departments typically are comprised of in-house personnel with differing levels of authority contingent on the school system and/or state or local laws.
- School Resource Officers are usually local or county law enforcement officers assigned by their departments to work in schools within their jurisdiction.
- School police departments are regular law enforcement entities with police authority that work for, and are paid by, the school district.
- Hall monitors are often paraeducators who perform security functions in addition to other administrative duties.
Regardless of how schools are staffed, one thing is clear: school security professionals need to be fully trained and have a clear understanding of not only security techniques, but also the unique nature of the school populations they are working with. That is why ongoing, quality professional development is so important.
3 Myths About Security Services Professionals
Myth #1: "You don't have to know a lot about security to become a school security officer."
In Kentucky, J.D. Jones has secured 400 hours of training from the Academy of Law Enforcement at Eastern Kentucky University. This Special Law Enforcement Officer, employed by the Fayette County Board of Education, is also required to participate in 40-hours of training every year. "We are required every summer to take a training course in some type of law enforcement," he says. Trainings are offered in investigations, weapons, sensitivity, traffic law, administrative matters, court procedure, evidence collecting, and more.
"Our training never stops," he adds. "We pursue every avenue that's open to us because it makes us that much better on the job."
In fact many school security professionals have had extensive law enforcement backgrounds. For example, the District Security Chief in Cherry Creek, Colorado is retired Arapoahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan. Just a few months after beginning his post in late-2002, Sullivan used his law-enforcement expertise to prepare terrorism emergency kits for the schools, update the district's crisis plans, and educate security personnel and other school employees in life-saving skills.
New Jersey's Joe Galego, a security guard at George Washington Elementary school in Elizabeth, came to education after working security at both a detention center and corporate pump manufacturer.
He is also a certified instructor, having participated in an in-depth training at the Crisis Prevention Institute in New York City. Since solidifying a "Pride in Public Education" grant from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), he now trains hundreds of educators in his district -- and across the state -- in nonviolent crisis intervention. The program focuses on making children, staff, and parents feel safe at school and helping them learn to handle potentially violent situations.
Elizabeth, he says, can be a tough place for kids to grow up. "Some kids here are lucky to have a place to go home to. They need so much more."
Myth #2: "There's no connection between security services personnel and student achievement."
Study after study shows that safe schools contribute to improved attendance, increased student achievement, and enhanced community support. Security services members provide a vital link to that safety.
They also provide a peace of mind for many students. While Kentucky's Jones, an armed officer with the power to arrest if necessary, specializes in schoolrelated problem areas such as crime, drugs, loitering, disorderly conduct and vehicular or pedestrian problems, he says many kids also talk to him about abusive situations or problems in class.
"I am a combination of counselor and big brother to the kids -- a person they can come talk to when they need to bend an ear or vent frustrations," he explains. John Goodie, School Security Chief at Arizona's Mesa High School, agrees. At 280 pounds and 6 feet 3 inches tall, he cuts a commanding figure. But students consider this pro football player turned school security chief a friend and confidant.
"I'm a big guy, but I speak softly," he explains. "I do not strong-arm anybody, but when I have to take care of business, it's all business."
A frequent community speaker on civil rights and anti-drug issues, Goodie works hand-in-hand with local police on gang prevention and has also established a silent witness program at school.
When he received NEA's Carter G. Woodson Award in 1999 for helping inspire his community to vote in favor of a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday observance, more than 2,000 students threw a rally in his honor, proving what an important role he plays in the student success equation.
"My calling is dealing with young people," says Goodie, who is known for sharing his "Goodie Rap" with students on the virtues of staying in school. "I use a language teenagers understand. Some kids don't have anyone they can talk to. I'm glad to be that person for some of them."
One of his priorities for each new school year, he adds, is to connect at least once with every student at the high school -- all 2,700 of them. He also makes himself available to facilitate student disputes at other nearby schools in the district.
Experts say many school security officers -- like J.D. Jones and John Goodie -- perform their jobs using a "Triad Model" with a focus on three issues: law enforcement, student counseling, and law-related education.
Myth #3: "Being a school security officer is an easy job."
The Wichita, Kansas Public Schools Security Services Department is made up of 44 officers -- the largest school security department in the state. The officers attend the Wichita Police Training Academy and are authorized to enforce the applicable laws of the city and policies of the Wichita Public Schools.
They respond to nearly 9,000 calls for assistance and prepare more than 2,000 reports annually. They patrol schools, and keep maintenance areas, bus garages and offices safe.
It's a big job -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, inside and outside, in more than 110 school district buildings. The officers are also responsible for providing security and metal detection scanning at all athletic events.
J.D. Jones knows how it feels. "I'm at work from 6:30 a.m. until at least 3:30 or even later, because I have to work extracurricular activities such as school dances and board meetings," he says. "Any activity that involves public use of a school building."
Like the Wichita security officers, he also has to be a team player, working closely with other support professionals and teachers.
"I tell them I'm there to assist if there is any activity in or outside of their classrooms that seems apart from the norm -- anything from kids not listening to simple instructions like 'get out of the hallways' to kids suspected of drug use or weapons possession," he explains.
In fact, experts say all school staff -- not just security personnel -- should be trained to recognize and respond to problem behaviors in youth. They should also be taught conflict resolution and peer mediation skills. Jones agrees: "In schools where there have been shootings, comments and threats were often overlooked or ignored," he says. "We need more sensitivity training for teachers, administrators and support staff to pick up on negativity, read potential problems at an early stage, and try to prevent the frustration and rage from escalating into violence."
Back in New Jersey, Joe Galego provides this type of training to teachers, who earn six hours of professional development credit for taking his workshop.
He adds: "It's important for everyone to know how to handle these situations because it is our reactions that can seriously affect the outcome."
Who better to teach school security personnel about security than the United States Secret Service?
In October 2002, nearly 40 Washington, DC, area school security officers and administrators attended a Secret Service-sponsored seminar about how best to protect children at school. The event came just after a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded by snipers on his way to Tasker Middle School in Prince George's County.
At the training, Secret Service agents talked about security techniques that were developed over the years to protect dignitaries, and that could just as easily work for children.
Trainers urged officials to think ahead and to head off problems, whether sniper attacks, gang violence or terrorism.
As part of that thinking, Secret Service agent Lisa Stokes suggested schools should follow the sort of preparations that the Secret Service uses for presidential details: trying to imagine what portions of a building or area a criminal would exploit to commit a crime.
"They're looking for areas where the targets are exposed for a long period of time," she explained.
Stokes and other agents also suggested that school security officers check wooded areas for hideouts, think about changing locks on doors if too many former employees may still have keys, look at the placement of trash cans near buildings where explosive devices could be left and encourage members of the community to keep an eye on the schools and to report suspicious activities.
After the presentation, Donald Mercer Jr., director of security for Prince William County schools, said, "We've got a lot of work to do in this area. It's a whole new world."
School security personnel should be thoroughly and continually trained in numerous areas. The syllabus of the School Security Officer Training Program of National School Safety and Security Services contained such a complete listing of the areas where staff development was needed that much of it is listed below:
Security Services Web Resources
Connect for Kids has resources to help education personnel and parents to support children dealing with trauma and grief.
The Hamilton Fish Institute works to make schools and the community safer for learning.
Keep Schools Safe provides useful information on such topics as school security fundamentals, playground safety checklist, why students fight, and information on gangs.
National Alliance for Safe Schools (NASS) was founded in 1977 by a group of school security directors to provide training, technical assistance and publications to school districts interested in reducing school based crime and violence.
The National Association of School Principals has tips for maintaining safe and orderly schools.
The National Association of School Psychologists provides tools and resources for educators to help children cope with crises.
National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) is the nation's largest not-for-profit organization for school based law enforcement officers, school administrators, and school security/ safety professionals working as partners to protect students, faculty and staff at the schools they attend.
The National Crime Prevention Council (creators of McGruff the Safety Dog) offers school safety resources.
National School Safety Center (NSSC) provides school communities with information, resources, consultation and training services, including a free brochure titled "Working Together to Create Safe Schools." The Center also identifies and promotes strategies, promising practices and programs that support safe schools for all students as part of the total academic mission.
National School Safety and Security Services (NSSSS) is an organization led by Ken Trump, a career school security professional with 20 years experience in school-specific security and crisis preparedness, gang intervention and prevention, and related youth violence training and safety consulting programs. The Web site contains useful information on preparing schools for dealing with terrorism.
NEA School Safety contains links to recent research and many school safety resources.
The Safety Zone, a project of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, has both a Safe Schools Lending Library, and a list of free publications that are available upon request.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This governmental agency will release a national school crisis plan in late-2003, which will offer tips on how school leaders can respond to terrorism such as biological and chemical attacks.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Emergency Planning. In an effort to provide school leaders with more information about emergency preparedness, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge unveiled a new section on the U.S. Department of Education Web site which is designed to be a "one-stop shop" to help school officials plan for any emergency, including natural disasters, violent incidents and terrorist attacks.