AP NEWS

Experts: Minnesota’s strategy on school gun attacks wrong

March 30, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s focus on school lockdown drills and security infrastructure is inadequate in preventing school shootings and keeping students safe, according to two St. Paul researchers.

Hamline University criminology professor Jillian Peterson has been working with Metropolitan State University criminal justice professor James Densley to collect data about individuals who committed mass acts of gun violence in U.S. schools.

The researchers created a database of 160 mass public school shootings in the country since 1966, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Peterson and Densley focused on the 45 school shootings that have occurred since two students opened fire on Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, killing 13 people.

Peterson said there isn’t a single profile of a school shooter, but there are patterns. The researchers found that 91 percent were current or former students of the school where the shooting took place, while many had a history of trauma. Roughly 80 percent of them had expressed suicidal thoughts or showed signs of a crisis before the shooting.

Minnesota lawmakers have considered several school safety proposals this year, including more grant funding for measures such as locks, secure windows and security monitoring equipment.

“In Minnesota, we put a lot of money into building more secure buildings, more secure entry points ... we know that it’s inadequate,” she said. “It’s not preventing school shootings.”

Peterson believes schools should drop lockdown drills altogether, and instead focus on providing more mental health support in schools.

She argued that schools should train adults on lockdown procedures, de-escalation and suicide prevention without involving students. The drills can traumatize students and offer a potential school shooter a blueprint for how to maximize casualties, according to Peterson.

She said law enforcement should be present, but schools should also handle threats of violence with long-term mental health services.

“Those threats can be seen as kind of a plea for help,” Peterson said. “We really approach it as a point of intervention, a point of saying, ‘Why are you doing this, and what do you need.’”

Oak Grove Middle School in Bloomington still holds lockdown drills, and the district has invested plenty of money in security systems. But the school also employs two counselors, a social worker and a dean of students. It also has Radar, a therapy dog who keeps students company.

Rick Kaufman, the district’s emergency management coordinator, believes schools pursue security upgrades because they’re tangible measures following a school shooting such as the massacre in Parkland, Florida .

Kaufman said the challenge in making school safety decisions is that “you can’t touch the prevention and mitigation.”

“You can’t see it necessarily, unless you’re involved in it,” he said. “And yet, that’s where our emphasis must be.”

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org