School security expert witness says school safety civil lawsuits point to allegations of failures of human factors, not failures of security equipment and technology

Posted by on May 10, 2022

Being retained as a school security expert witness in Pre-K12 school civil litigation cases ranging from the nation’s highest profile school active shooter cases and wrongful death cases (Sandy Hook, Parkland, San Bernardino, and others) to rapes and other sexual assaults, violent physical assaults, gang violence, crimes on school buses, and other lawsuits provides unique insights into some of our nation’s most serious cases of school crime and violence.

While the facts and merits of each lawsuit case varies, a common thread across the majority of school safety litigation cases is that they involve allegations of failures of people, supervision, training, policies, procedures, and/or related human factors.  They typically do not involve allegations focused on security hardware equipment and related technology.

School security litigation claims focus on human factors

Were supervision, security, policies, procedures, and other measures adequate? Were actions taken reasonable? Was there a failure to act that could have contributed to the incident occurring? Were people provided with adequate training?  Did people follow their training? These and other questions often come under the microscope of school security expert witnesses, judges, juries, media, and school-communities.

The common thread? The allegations focus upon human factor issues.  Rarely will you see a school security lawsuit with allegations being all about some type of failure of security equipment or technology.  And if security hardware is raised in a lawsuit, it is reasonable to expect it will be a part of a larger allegation of a flawed action or inaction of a person or persons behind that equipment, not the equipment alone.

Security theater: Political and school leaders mistakenly put skewed resources on security equipment

Ironically, while the focus of these allegations on human factors is clear to most school (and other) security experts, we continue to see legislatures, elected officials, school boards, superintendents, and others respond to increased cases of aggression, serious discipline misbehaviors, crime, and violence with more security hardware, equipment, technology, and security theater.  I shake my head as I continue to see states issue press releases boasting about grants to schools that are almost exclusively focused on more security equipment and nothing for training, emergency planning exercises, or other people-focused school security.

What is security theater?  It is when officials create perceptions of increased security with visible, tangible actions — such as putting in more cameras or metal detectors after a school shooting or stabbing — that create perceptions of increased security but typically alone do not necessarily make schools safer.  For example, putting in metal detectors to use during school hours, only to leave schools open without their use during nights and weekends when kids could plant a weapon in their locker to use the next school day, is a great example of security theater.

It is a lot easier for school leaders to create security theater to appease parents and the school-community than it is to tackle the more time-consuming, less-visible, and complex tasks that schools should take to make schools safer.

Focus resources and time on people, not just security hardware

School safety litigation typically occurs when someone has been hurt or killed. The majority of school security lawsuits involve allegations of failures of human factors.  Focusing school safety strategies on human factors, not on quick-fix security theater, better serves students, educators, and the school-community in making schools safer and, in the long run, reducing the need for school security litigation.

Ken Trump is the President of National School Safety and Security Services.  He provides school security expert witness civil litigation services to plaintiff and defense attorneys.

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8 thoughts on “School security expert witness says school safety civil lawsuits point to allegations of failures of human factors, not failures of security equipment and technology

  1. B. Oder says:

    Excellent article and spot on! As someone involved in school security and emergency management for several decades, I have seen plenty of examples of appearances being “more important” than taking actual effective measures.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thank you!

      1. Jeremy Foster says:

        Hello Ken Trump,
        Really enjoy your articles and pod casts . I’m a new Safety and Security Manager for a large school district in Texas. Our district is building some new Pre-K buildings and was wondering if you had any resources on safety/ security construction or building planning that could help me.

        1. Ken Trump says:

          Thanks, Jeremy. Congrats on your new position. Drop me an email with your district email address and some additional info on what you have going on. I’ll see how I can help. Thanks. Ken

  2. Rich Ferrone says:

    I like the term “Security Theater” because that’s exactly what it is. With 26 years in LE and now 6 involved in school security, the knee jerk or feel good response tends to be the common response after an incident. 9 x out of 10 I have seen it come down to failure to follow a policy or lack of a policy.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Unfortunately we are see far too much “security theater” and not enough substantive meaningful comprehensive school safety measures.

  3. As usual, you are informative and clarifying, Dr. Ken.

    With respect to the lack of substantive meaningful comprehensive school safety measures, the security theater, and the knee jerk reactions following a school shooting, who ultimately is responsible for both and is there school principal/superintendent involvement in the process?

  4. David Sinclair says:

    I would like facts/statistics on this “Has the presence of public school resource officers reduced crime in schools? Also, facts/statistics needed on “Have public high school graduation rates increased in the presence of school resource officers?” Thanks.

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