Editor’s Note: Ryan Petty is a board member of Stand with Parkland, a national organization committed to advocating for practical public safety reforms focused on the safety of children and staff at school, improved mental health support and responsible firearms ownership. He lost his daughter Alaina in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in 2018. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
As America takes a crucial and painful look at law enforcement practices some have called to remove police officers from schools. Stand with Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools, founded by families of the students and educators murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, believes it is a mistake to remove law enforcement from school campuses.
Since the shocking school massacre that took the lives of our beloved children and spouses in 2018, Stand with Parkland has fought to make our nation’s schools safer. Lessons from our tragedy in Parkland could not be more clear – school attacks must be stopped as quickly as possible. Every second counts for the innocent child, or teacher in the line of fire. This is not hyperbole; we live with the consequences of this fact every day.
As a nation we were shocked and saddened by the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis Police officers. We mourn with his family. Our families understand the pain created by the senseless loss of a loved one and we believe all people deserve respect, dignity, justice, and equal treatment under the law. In order to improve policing in this country there must be honest and frank conversations; followed by positive action.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes, but when it comes to the safety of students and teachers there are specially trained police officers who help bridge the gap between law enforcement and communities. An effective School Resource Officers (SRO) program is an integral component to school safety and Stand with Parkland encourages school districts around our nation to consider how to improve, rather than eliminate, them.
Communities should let data guide their decision.
This past winter, Stand with Parkland members traveled with the US Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) team as they presented their latest report Protecting America’s Schools. Their research has shown that law enforcement is a critical part of an effective multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment team. This team, which also includes school officials and mental health professionals, is a vital tool that can proactively prevent targeted school violence. Additionally, independent research from the University of Virginia shows that multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment teams reduce suspensions and help ensure the equitable treatment of all students.
Yet given the current environment, it may be natural for some to question why school districts spend scarce resources to have police on campus. It is because SROs are effective. These programs build relationships that make students and teachers feel safe and improve the climate and culture in our schools. SROs also collaborate with school officials to get students the help they need which has aided in a 74% decline, between 1996 and 2018, in juvenile arrests depicted in US Department of Justice data. As we mentioned, seconds count, and the 2019 NTAC report shows “No attacks were ended by outside law enforcement agencies responding to the scene from off-campus.”
Stand with Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools believes we must preserve the progress we have made together to make our nation’s schools safer as we honor those lost. The threats to schools are real. The consequences of not protecting our nation’s children and educators are devastating to families and communities alike.
As Americans, we have a responsibility to challenge the status quo when things are broken, and we must strive to channel activism into positive action. By working together, we will find solutions to complex issues whether they are about equality or school safety.