School-safety expert talks violence prevention

Former Edmonds police officer and national school-safety expert Martin Speckmaier gave a presentation Tuesday in south Everett for local school officials about preventing violence on campuses.

The presentation at Everest College, near the Everett Mall, covered a lot of complex topics in a short amount of time. At least four Snohomish County school districts had representatives in attendance, in addition to folks from public and private, K-12, post-secondary and technical schools from around Western Washington.

Reporters politely were asked to leave about halfway through the event, so school officials could speak candidly about specific campus safety concerns. It’s understandable why they wouldn’t want those concerns advertised. (The media to citizen ratio in the room was about 1:5.)

Speckmaier’s presentation presented a road map for tackling federal and state safety mandates, assessing threats and practicing and planning for campus emergencies, including the unthinkable and its aftermath.

Educators today have more and more pressures and demands on their time and energy, Speckmaier said.

In recent years, they’ve also been tasked with becoming safety experts, and it’s not always clear what exactly that means: legally, ethically and morally. Schools long have been discouraged from sharing information with others in the community out of fear of violating privacy laws. It’s hard to overcome that practice, he said.

Each campus has a unique layout and culture, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, he said.

The content of much of the presentation was aimed at school higher-ups, and at times it got pretty alphabet-soup acronym-y, but I’ll try to share some of his key points below:

• Educators by nature are trusting and nurturing. Police by nature are skeptical and suspicious. They have to work together to see both sides. Predators can see trust and nurturing as weaknesses. Police see campuses and potential violence with a different lens. With the loss of many school resource officer positions in recent years, schools and police still have to partner. Local mental health professionals should be included in those discussions.

• Not all schools have student-threat assessment teams, which aren’t required by law in Washington. Some schools have those teams, but give them softer, more palatable names. He encourages every school or district to have one. These are people trained in identifying which students pose real threats.

• A lot of troubled kids wear masks hiding “the depression, the sadness, the rage they are carrying around with them,” he said.

• School safety plans must be living, breathing documents and updated annually. Key staff should know when to divert from the plan when necessary. Those plans come in handy for all kinds of emergencies, such as floods, lockdowns for nearby police activity, and even the occasional bear ambling onto campus.

• Many schools don’t have or don’t rigorously enforce visitor check-in plans, or limit access to and from campus. Predators look for those weaknesses.

• It’s impossible to prevent every act of violence, but good planning and prevention efforts are possible, and should be well-documented.

• School officials have to talk about active-shooter and other worst-case scenarios. Drills and “tabletop exercises” should happen. Those sorts of conversations and activities condition the brain to handle an emergency rather than panic and shut down.

For more information and resources, visit Speckmaier’s website at www.school-safety-intervention.org. He also was quoted in our coverage of local reactions to the Newtown shooting in December.

Also, here’s a link to the state law governing schools and threats of violence: RCW 28A.320.128.

More in Local News

Young woman missing from Mukilteo found safe

She called her parents and told them she was at a museum in Seattle.

Mom and brother turn in suspect in Stanwood robberies

The man is suspected of robbing the same gas station twice, and apologizing to the clerk afterward.

Derrick “Wiz” Crawford, 22, is a suspect in the homicide of his roommate. (Edmonds Police Department)
Roommate suspected in Edmonds killing found hiding in closet

Police had been searching for him for 10 days before locating him at a house in Everett.

Video shows man suspected of attacking a woman in Edmonds

The man allegedly threw her on the ground, then ran away after the she began kicking and screaming.

Navy to put filter in Coupeville’s contaminated water system

Chemicals from firefighting foam was found in the town’s drinking water.

Officials to test sanity of suspect in Everett crime spree

He allegedly tried to rob and clobber a transit worker, then fled and struggled with police.

Katharine Graham, then CEO and chairwoman of the board of The Washington Post Co., looks over a copy of The Daily Herald with Larry Hanson, then The Herald’s publisher, during her visit to Everett on Sept. 20, 1984. The Washington Post Co. owned The Herald from 1978 until 2013. (Herald archives)
Everett’s brush with Katharine Graham, leader of ‘The Post’

Retired Herald publisher Larry Hanson recalls The Washington Post publisher’s visits.

Former Monroe cop loses appeal on sex crimes conviction

Once a highly respected officer, he was found guilty of secretly videotaping his kids’ babysitter.

Families seek to change wrongful death law

A bill would allow or parents or siblings who wish to pursue a suit for an unmarried, childless adult.

Most Read