During the past 10 years, the deadliest mass shootings have been at suburban schools, according to several studies.
That fact and other disturbing trends prompted Westchester County officials to study the best ways of preventing gun violence.
As the 20th anniversary of the Columbine, Colo. shootings approached in April, The Washington Post calculated that in K-12 schools alone, in the two decades since the Columbine massacre, more than 223,000 children have been exposed to gun violence during classroom hours.
Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. said: “Whether targeted by students, former students, former employees or an individual out to make a statement, it is important for schools to be prepared for any event that might put the safety of students and staff at risk. . . .This is what keeps me up at night – what happens when someone bent on violence enters one of our schools?”
However, school shootings are not limited to those characterized as “mass shootings.” In a more recent interactive report published by CNN, the TV news outlet noted in the same 10 years, on K-12 campuses at least 177 schools experienced a shooting, some during school hours, some after hours. Some involved a few students, some involving many. Some were carried out by outside attackers, others were disputes among students who knew each other. All of them frightening and maybe preventable. Those numbers do not include students killed or injured on college campuses in the same time frame. Perhaps the most sobering number from the CNN database is the number of children and adults killed and injured in a given year on school grounds. The highest tally was in 2018: 37 dead. 68 injured.
The Westchester County School Safety Commission released its recommendations to create safer schools in the County by following a core set of data-driven best practices and blue prints for success. The report titled: “Creating Safer Schools: Recommendations to Strengthen and Enhance Prevention, Planning and Response to School Violence,” combines best practices being used statewide and across the nation to create a proactive climate to prevent school violence of any kind and to plan for action and response if a threat or incident takes place in one of the 400-plus school facilities in Westchester.
The full report with recommendations was released on Sept. 18 at a news conference led by D.A. Scarpino and Westchester County Executive George Latimer.
“County officials are continually working to ensure the safety of all of our schools," Latimer said.
The county's report did not focus on gun violence but on many forms of disruption. Quoting a state study: “The types of incidents reported varied considerably by region. Downstate, New York City’s most frequently reported incidents were assault, sexual offenses and weapons possession, while the Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions’ schools had a much larger proportion of drug and alcohol incidents.”
It also reports that millions of dollars are spent annually on security and other safety measures.
Key recommendations include:
- -- Outline a comprehensive school violence prevention, planning and response for each school based on NYS Emergency Response Plans guidelines
- -- Create circles of communication among stakeholders, including school building administration, school districts, mental health professionals, law enforcement and other first responders, parents, students and community members–including systems for anonymous tips, alerts, contacts for all emergency teams, teacher and staff training, and community meetings
- -- Adopt a schoolwide systems approach to threat prevention in all schools
- -- Follow models for building Threat Assessment Teams and Emergency Response Teams
- -- Enhance relationships between local police and schools; and set guidelines for law enforcement to follow concerning commitment, planning and response
- -- Utilize specialized training for law enforcement involved in school safety
- -- Mandate regularly scheduled districtwide emergency and crisis response drills, such as disaster drills and active shooter drills, including school personnel, local law enforcement and first responders, and mutual aid responders.
The full county report can be accessed by clicking here.See Attachment