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Home  >  Topics  >  School Violence

December 01, 2010
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What if the Wis. gunman's school had an SRO on campus?

SROs are often told of potential fights, incidents of abuse, and the whereabouts of drugs, alcohol, and guns on campus

A 15-year-old Wisconsin student brought two handguns to school on Monday and held his Social Studies class hostage for six hours before shooting himself in the head as a SWAT team entered the classroom.

One of Sam Hengel’s hostages was his teacher, Valerie Burd, who later described the teen as an excellent student with many friends.

The six-hour standoff came to an end after Hengel fired three rounds inside the classrom, striking a telephone and a computer. Hengel dropped one of the guns as SWAT busted down the door and then picked the other up off a podium and pointed it to his head.

As a SWAT officer grabbed his arm, he squeezed the trigger.

School Resources Officers
Based on the reporting we’ve read, and the fact that cops were first alerted of the situation through the principal’s 911 call, we assume that Marinette High School did not have a School Resource Officer. By sheer coincidence, PoliceOne Columnist Dan Marcou wrote a story last week about the value of having SROs on campus, in which me makes a compelling case for the role of cops in the lives of students.

Because SROs are on campus throughout the entire school day, they are often “told of impending fights, incidents of abuse, and the location of drugs and guns in the school,” Marcou writes. “School Resource Officers are being contacted by students all over the country daily, not only because of their convenience, but also because of the relationship they have established based on respect and trust.”

Hengel’s motivations are still either unknown, or they have not been released to the public. Initial comments from students and the teacher make him out to be a well adjusted kid with no obvious issues. Having an officer on campus could have served several purposes in Monday’s tragedy:

Be a role model – SROs are tasked with building relationships during this critical developmental period in life. Students can confide in the officers about troubles they are experiencing at home or in school.
Discover the handguns – A sworn officer on campus has the time, skills, and resources to track down firearms because of his/her law-enforcement background and daily proximity to students.
End the threat – If an SRO was on campus at the start of Monday's hostage situation, he/she may have been able to end the threat before it elevated to a six-hour standoff. There's also the possibliy that in a 700-student school like Marinette High School, the SRO could have known the student personally, which would have been a valuable tool in negotiation.

Plenty of administrators don't like the idea of having armed police officers on campus, but others that are struggling with youth violence are welcoming the help.

Oakland Chief goes to Washington
Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts is in Washington, D.C. as we speak, lobbying for federal money to fund a program that would put six cops in four of the city’s middle schools. The department, which has been heavily hit recently by several waves of budget cuts and layoffs, would need about $6 million in extra funding to place the cops in the school.

"The idea is to make schools safer, steer kids away from crime, and build positive relationships between police and the city’s young people," Oakland PD spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason told the Bay Citizen. "Statistics have shown that kids are very vulnerable at that age where they start to either go into a gang or they start straying from school."

School Reopens
As of today, Marinette High School is back in session, with teachers and counselors ready to give support and reassurance to students. Authorities spent yesterday investigating the classroom and interviewing students at their homes.

“We understand there is a fear factor that we must overcome,” Principal Corry Lambie told the Associated Press. “But we’re the adults, the leaders in the building, so we need to take care of our kids.”

Could they possibly benefit from one more adult leader in the building? One in uniform, perhaps?






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