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Monday, Apr 21, 2014
Education

Expert suggests upgrades to Hillsborough school security

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TAMPA -

Students in Hillsborough County riding school buses are among the most vulnerable potential targets of violence, and armed police officers should ride those buses occasionally to reduce that risk.

That’s one of a number of conclusions by Michael Dorn, a nationally recognized school safety expert who was paid $8,500 by the school district for a security review in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting massacre in December.

Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International Inc. in Macon, Ga., has submitted a report that will be the focus of a school board workshop Tuesday afternoon.

While he finds it remarkable the county has never had an intentional shooting on a school campus, which is unusual for a district this size, Dorn wrote there are many things that could be done to make schools safer.

Among Dorn’s observations:

It would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars rather than millions of dollars” to make the kind of physical changes to schools to make them safer.

Many of Hillsborough’s schools were designed decades ago and are a nightmare from an access-control standpoint, he said.

Some of the most costly improvements would be adding 7-foot-high wrought aluminum fencing, electronic buzzer access control at all schools, and protective laminates or more attractive wire mesh security screens for all ground-floor glass windows. Those costs would be prohibitive, however.

The district should hire more security officers so that when an officer calls in sick, there is someone else to fill in. As it stands now, there is no replacement policy, Dorn said.

“Having an armed and properly trained security officer fill in for short periods of time would dramatically improve preventive and defensive capabilities should an armed aggressor consider or attempt an attack at a middle or high school.”

School officials should consider having selected officers monitor the social media accounts of suspended or expelled students as well as adults who might pose a risk.

“This approach has helped to prevent some planned school attacks around the nation,” Dorn wrote.

Many schools have “dead spots” where radio communications and cellphones are hard to operate. An updated radio system is needed to correct some of these problems, he said.

Before the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six adults dead, only a handful of elementary schools in Hillsborough had a resource officer or deputy on duty. Since the shooting, representatives from Tampa police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office have been on duty at all elementary schools, as well as the middle and high schools where they already served.

Dorn surveyed 21 elementary school principals who already had resource officers before the Newtown tragedy.

Nineteen of those strongly agreed that the armed presence has made their school safer.

In January, school board members rejected spending millions of dollars to hire 130 extra personnel to place district guards at every elementary school permanently. The money, $2 million this year and $4 million next year, would have come from the district’s contingency fund.


rshaw@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7999

Twitter: @rshawTrib

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