School Shootings: We Must Do Better

Would you consider arming airplane stewards?

By Joseph Padilla  |   Mar 5, 2018

The shootings and murder in American schools is a national crisis that we must immediately address. A nation-wide strategy must be developed to provide a safe environment for our children and educators. News programs report one of the responses from Washington, D.C., is to equip teachers with firearms. Are we to expect professional educators to be the front line of defense to protect our nation’s greatest treasure, our children?

The idea that people who dedicate their lives to educating our kids should be suddenly responsible for confronting an active, armed threat is difficult for me to accept. We would be asking them to walk away from securing terrified children and take on a shooting suspect. This is to be done with possibly little or no experience in shooting situations.

Having armed protection at schools is an idea I fully support. However, placing this burden on teachers isn’t the right answer. I know educators who have had former law enforcement or military backgrounds, but I don’t think providing armed protection for schools is a responsibility they are willing, or wanting, to take on.

Out of School

The focus should be on preventing an armed school shooter from initially entering school facilities, rather than depending on armed teachers confronting a suspect who is already in the school. The immediate need is to stop the threat before they are allowed within school property.

As we saw in Florida, having an armed police officer on scene doesn’t guaranty that an active shooter would be confronted by cops—especially after the suspect had already entered a building and started shooting. Law enforcement officers are trained to confront active shooters and stop the threat. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every one of them would enter a building and do this.

Shooting situations are chaotic and dangerous. It can even be intimidating for experienced police officers, so placing expectations on a teacher to take action is, I think, unsafe in the extreme. In my experience, the vast number of officers I worked with would immediately enter a school to attempt to eliminate someone shooting.

But I’ve also seen firsthand police officers refuse to confront an active shooter.

In October of 1992 I was assigned to the night shift Narcotics Division, when at about 11 p.m. police dispatch advised that a neighboring jurisdiction was calling for assistance. They had a suspect shooting at their officers with a rifle in a mobile home park.

My partner and I were about four blocks away so we sped to the scene. Upon our arrival we were immediately fired upon by the suspect using a large caliber rifle. We ran to a fence line along the outside of the park and I saw a couple of sheriff’s deputies shooting their firearms. One of the deputies knew me.

“Joe, come help us!” he yelled.

“Let’s go,” I said to my partner.

“Fuck ’em, it ain’t our fight,” he said. He hid behind a parked vehicle while refusing to enter the trailer park to assist.

Although we only had handguns against a high-power rifle, we tried to stop the threat while helping wounded gunshot victims throughout the park. There was a standoff with the suspect and numerous rounds fired that night. The shooter was eventually killed by a SWAT team the next day.

My partner was carrying a firearm, had been a police officer for several years, and was a former SWAT team member. Yet he wouldn’t confront an active shooter. I know he’s the exception of the police officers I know. But how can we expect an educator—who doesn’t deal with violence, weapons or criminals on a daily basis—to place their life on the line and take action during a sudden shooting?

It amazes me that the options presented on the news by the federal government is to implement measures to deal with a shooter after they have already entered the school. Arming teachers, changing gun laws, and all options should be reviewed. But the immediate need is to keep these murderers from entering schools.

We are the most powerful nation in the world, but we’ve done very little about gun violence to save our children. Our nation still hasn’t implemented national security measures designed to protect school children. We’ve had too many school shootings since Columbine in 1999. Still we are arguing about solutions while children and educators are losing their lives.

My years of law enforcement experience made me realize that our first response should be to immediately protect the schools. Some options to be considered may be to install perimeter fences around schools with limited access points. School buildings should be retrofitted with bullet-resistant material on interior and exterior windows and doors. Possibly establishing a national school security force comprised of retired cops and military personnel (who would undergo background checks and training) should be researched. This force would staff access points and control entry to the facility while monitoring security cameras. They would provide a barrier to stop a threat before it can enter school property. Grandparents protecting kids would be a formidable force!

Retired police officers presently provide security at the Federal courthouse in downtown Denver. I’m assume it’s the same across the country. These are people trained to recognize threats and have years of experience in dealing with them. On a side note, a major issue affecting retired police officers is the cost of health care. With this option retirees can work part-time and job-share while a portion of their compensation can be assisting them with health care premiums.


My hope is that we stop the threat before it reaches the children. This same concept is applied at airports. The key to providing safety on airliners is making every effort to eliminate the threat prior to entry. I know we have air marshals. But would we provide firearms to flight attendants to address the threat after an armed party has already boarded an aircraft without going through screening?

This philosophy should be to stop the threat to our schools, playgrounds and school busses before an armed encounter can occur. I know it would be expensive. But a national problem like this one deserves federal dollars to address. I’m sure there are many experts who can improve on my suggestions, who will be able to design solutions to protect our schools. The time to implement reasonable responses is now. To wait is to incur more senseless death.

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Joseph Padilla

Joseph Padilla

Captain Joseph Padilla (ret.) has commanded the Gang, Juvenile and Traffic Operations and Civil Liability/Professional Standards Bureaus of the Denver Police Department. He has managed several large events including the traffic and transportation plan for the Democratic National Convention, the World Series, Presidential visits, large protests, parades and other high profile activities. He previously served as the manager of the Investigative Support Center for the Rocky Mountain H.I.D.T.A. (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) program. During his thirty-plus year career Joe has survived several critical incidents, including being involved in fatal police shootings. He has received his department's Medal of Honor (including being nominated for the Presidential Medal of Valor), three Medals of Valor, two Distinguished Service Crosses and numerous other commendations. He is a graduate of the 235th session of the FBI National Academy and retired from law enforcement in 2015.
Joseph Padilla

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