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Prevention and response to a gunman in a school scenario

By Rachel Fretz

Major Steve Ijames, a 27-year veteran of the Springfield, Mo. PD and PoliceOne columnist, presented “Beyond Rapid Deployment” at the IACP Conference this week. Steve was an original member of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) board of directors, and was the course developer/lead instructor for the NTOA and IACP less lethal force options "train the trainer" programs. Steve has provided such training across the United States and in 31 foreign countries.

The majority of communities fall short of providing adequate prevention and response to a gunman in a school scenario, said Major Steve Ijames, presenting an educational seminar at the 114th IACP Conference in New Orleans, October 2007.

“Unless you put simple things in place to mitigate access of gunmen to students, there’s going to be a problem,” he said.

Therefore, it is critical, he said, that schools and police work together to create a plan.

Ijames offered the following guidelines for school/police team planning:

  1. Establish the authority to plan.
  2. Assemble a planning team (get all schools involved).
  3. Thoroughly identify the problem.
  4. Establish clearly defined goals and objectives.
  5. Create a plan.
  6. Assess the plan through the lens of "if/then" thinking
  7. Test the plan.
  8. Review, rewrite, update.

The time to do this is now, he said.

“It’s not a matter of if,” Ijames said. “It’s a matter of when, and how bad.”

Contemporary thinking in American policing, Ijames said, tends to bandy around terms like “national standards,” which does not ring true to Ijames.

“We police our own communities, good or bad, and we police the aftermath,” he said. “We police our preparedness and we defend what we do.”

The question then becomes: What can we do to mitigate the risk to our schools right now?

“Focus on the end-goal,” Ijames said. “If we know with moral certainty that we will have armed intruders in schools, then it is incumbent for us to sit down and address our insufficient response capability.”

Ijames believes that law enforcement must rethink policing paradigms from response to action on the scene.

To that end, Ijames suggests the following measures:

  1. Limiting access to schools.
  2. Looking at where police have successfully intervened. (Police must be in physical proximity to the school.)
  3. Mandating that officers who patrol school districts use in-service break time to walk the halls of the school and talk to the teachers and principal.

The long-term solution, he said, is police officers in the schools.

Before any of these steps are implemented, Ijames said, school officials, community leaders and police must recognize the reality of an active shooter situation and remove the politics in order to place a properly trained, armed officer in that school.

“We need to think outside the box,” he said, “with the priority of saving lives.”

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