The STEM School Highlands Ranch outside Denver contracted with a security guard, a former Marine who has not been identified. He had stayed out of the public eye since Tuesday, when two suspects opened fire at the charter school, killing one and injuring eight people.
On Thursday, the Associated Press confirmed reports he had fired his weapon, citing a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case.
Contracted security guards, who may be armed or unarmed, differ from school resource officers, which are sworn police officers with tactical training who spend time developing relationships with schools.
Even experts in the field of school security are split on what kind of personnel leads to a “safer” school.
School resource officers are “carefully selected and specifically trained,” said Mo Canady, the executive director of the trade association for those officers. The group trains thousands of police officers in how to develop relationships with youth.
“We want the gun to be in the right hands,” Canady added.
Most schools don’t have a school resource officer
In reality, most public schools don’t have a school resource officer. Only about 40% employ one, said Jeff Allison, a special advisor for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
Other options for schools include hiring a retired law enforcement officer, creating an in-house school police department, contracting with off-duty police and paying them overtime to work during school hours, or even convincing school parents who are sworn officers to lend a hand.
Ken Trump, a longtime expert in the field of school security, believes the best option is to have a trained, professional law enforcement officer in a school.
“Police officers are trained to factor in that there’s a much greater civilian population around them in a public setting where armed conflict might occur,” said Trump, who is not related to the president.
“He doesn’t even realize how many lives he saved by stopping a school shooting,” Whitus said Wednesday.
Sheldon Greenberg, a professor of management and public safety leadership at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education in Baltimore, said contracted private security firms work just fine for many schools, especially because they are cheaper and schools have more flexibility around scheduling their hours.
“People tend to think of contracted security as an ill-prepared rent-a-cop,” he said. “Even if they are contracted security officers … they can be pretty well-oriented. They may or may not be armed. There’s a whole spectrum of examples.”
And, he said, there’s a big misconception that any security person will stop a shooter.
“In the best circumstances a police officer shoots accurately 27% of the time,” said Greenberg, who is a former police officer. “Are you going to shoot that person with kids running around? It’s not as simple as you think.”
Trevor Hughes contributed reporting from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.
Education coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial input.
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