Politics, Lobbyists and Predatory Sales Tactics Are Biggest Threats to School Safety

Politicians want to keep kids safe, but without the input of school security professionals, their laws are bound to fail.

Politics, Lobbyists and Predatory Sales Tactics Are Biggest Threats to School Safety

Adobe Stock image by John

The school safety and security sector, valued between $2 billion and $3 billion, remains largely unregulated despite increased funding since 2018. (Funding for school security often increases after a major tragedy.)

A school is lucky if it has a dedicated safety director with the experience to assess and prioritize needs as they sift through the myriad daily sales pitches from companies trying to capture a piece of the funding. However, for the schools without this in-house expertise, they often simply “just do something” to increase safety and often rely on vendors and politicians to find their solutions.

To complicate this, in the last two years, an increasing number of vendors have been using lobbyists and campaign contributions to obtain access to politicians in hopes of creating laws that require school systems to spend their finite school safety budgets on an increasingly small number of products that do little to actually meet the needs of an all-hazard school safety strategy.

Instead of politicians consulting with school safety experts on what laws and products are best, they have been listening to private venture capital-backed companies that falsely claim to have products that do amazing things such as “prevent active shooters.”

This is why under-educated politicians, high-power lobbyists and predatory sales tactics have become the number one threat to American schools.

Politicians’ Bills Ignore School Safety

While well-meaning politicians enact laws that seem like they could be solutions, most of the laws they pass fail to enhance school safety, primarily focusing on products instead of investing in and training qualified people. Unfunded mandates, lack of oversight and enforcement, and misaligned priorities lead these bills to fail as soon as they are signed.

This happens because many politicians fail to include experts in school safety during the initial writing of school safety bills.

Having participated in close to a dozen testimonies regarding mass violence in schools, we have seen many laws enacted that have fallen short due to lack of funding and enforcement. For example, Texas recently passed House Bill 3 requiring all schools in the state to have an armed officer on every campus.

This law was “dead on arrival” due to the lack of funding attached to it. The vast majority of schools in Texas are rural and don’t have additional funds to meet the requirement, which allowed them to obtain waivers to be exempt from compliance.

Another example of failed legislation was the passage of Texas Senate Bill 11 after the tragic Santa Fe High School mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in May of 2018. After a year of testimonies, one of the requirements was that schools in the state complete a comprehensive safety and security audit every three years.

The Texas School Safety Center oversees compliance, though they are not a regulatory agency. Just a few short years later, Texas suffered another tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Shortly after this horrifying event, many school security experts were called to testify before the Texas Senate.

During the testimony, it was discovered that in the three years since the passage of Texas Senate Bill 11, only 200 out of 1,100 school districts in Texas were compliant. Only one non-compliant district experienced any consequences.

To the defense of the director of the Texas School Safety Center, her entity is a resource center, not a compliance agency. Since then, a new chief security officer has been appointed to work under the secretary of education to oversee compliance, but only after 21 innocent souls lost their lives in Uvalde.

Many politicians really do mean well and want to do something to keep kids safe. However, without the input of school security professionals during the initial writing of legislation and subsequent testimony, their laws are bound to fail and do little to increase safety within schools.

Maryland’s 2024 legislative sessions illustrate this point. Several bills have been introduced that further limit grant funds, increase private sector profits, and/or reprioritize initiatives that don’t address the most pressing threats in our schools. These bills have been created without input from the state’s centers for school safety or from the school safety directors (which were required by the same body in 2018).

Lobbyists Force Schools to Use Vendors’ Products

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in security firms and other vendors turning to lobbyists to influence school safety policies. This trend is driven by the vast sums of money available for school safety initiatives, with vendors seeking to secure a share of the funding for their products and services.

In states including VirginiaDelawareWisconsinColoradoPennsylvaniaIowa, and Utah, vendors have successfully lobbied for laws to be enacted that make them the sole provider of a “mandatory” school safety product, all in hopes of increasing profits, stock prices, and the likelihood of being bought out by a larger corporation.

We have also seen unethical vendors provide campaign contributions to create laws so specific that only one of two vendors can meet the legislated language.

Vendors know few, if any, politicians will vote against school safety bills, even if the required solution does nothing to increase safety and only steals finite taxpayer dollars from basic strategies all schools should have.

This trend of vendors hiring lobbyists raises questions about the potential influence on school safety policies and the prioritization of security measures over other aspects of education and student well-being. It is crucial to prioritize evidence-based practices over the influence of lobbyists and to ensure that school safety policies are driven by the needs of the students rather than the interests of vendors.

The extortion must stop!

Predatory Sales Tactics Push Ineffective Products

Some unscrupulous vendors have even begun attacking the processes used to award contracts with emails and phone calls to school board members and superintendents in hopes of going around the school safety director or RFP process. They provide false claims and grandiose false promises about their product’s capabilities, hoping to undercut the school security expert when they choose another product.

This behavior is unethical and should lead the school to question the vendor’s product quality and capabilities since they are unwilling to compete in a free market business environment.

If a school really wants to make sure they are getting a quality product from a trusted supplier, they should follow these best practices:

  • Only use vendors that have incorporated evidence-based solutions.
  • Make sure product claims and statements are backed by research and historical data.
  • Vendors should have a lengthy history in the school security space.
  • If high-pressure sales tactics are used, the company is not one a school district should work with.
  • Demand a live product demonstration to determine if the product works as advertised.
  • Ask for references. Reputable vendors will provide references of organizations they have worked with successfully and others whom they have experienced challenges with.
  • Avoid working with companies that boast of political wins, advertise they work with lobbyists, or speak badly of every other solution provider in their specific space

Tailored, Layered Approach to Improve School Safety

Schools are unique as fingerprints and face threats that range from a stray dog on a playground, propped open doors, and angry parents, to community-based gun violence and active assailants. Each of these issues requires vastly different strategies and solutions to prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from.

No one solution will eliminate all risks within schools, but a layering of different technologies and strategies can be highly effective in an overall security plan.

This plan should have common sense practices attached to it such as:

  • At a minimum, schools should have a school safety director with relevant experience.
  • Classroom doors should be locked and there should be electronic access control points that can lock doors automatically if needed.
  • Guided vestibules that ensure traffic entering the school is funneled directly to the main office versus providing access to the whole school.
  • Limit entry points to reduce threats coming into the facility.
  • Develop standard response protocols to ensure the school is prepared to handle a threat.
  • Enclose open-space schools and incorporate fences around campuses.
  • Incorporate safety films on glass for another added layer of protection.
  • Install interoperable radio systems that can communicate with public safety officials and staff in the event of an emergency.
  • Develop and enforce a student code of conduct.
  • Ensure the school has operational security cameras with server that records video from the cameras.
  • Perform behavioral health threat and risk assessments to identify vulnerable students.
  • Empower and train staff.

Schools cannot purchase their way to safety and security, and mandatory state requirements will not make schools safer as a whole. The best solutions must include the foundational principles of strong student/staff relationships, positive school culture/climate, and a well-trained staff/student body.

Schools should not be required to purchase or even consider the latest technological marvel until they have mastered these foundational principles, built expertise in the fundamentals of school safety, and installed, built, and/or mastered the basic security solutions listed above.

High-pressure sales tactics and emotional manipulation threaten the integrity of school safety initiatives nationwide. Trustworthy solutions should not require coercion, lobbying or a new law, but rather stand on their merits backed by comprehensive, evidence-based strategies.

Shane Giblin has more than 10 years of experience in the school safety space. Currently, he serves as a federal law enforcement agent and as an advisor and advocate to various nationwide nonprofit organizations, contributing to initiatives that promote safer educational environments. He has more than 18 years of public service and is a Marine Corps veteran. He is also a member of the Founding Advisory Board for ZeroNow.

Mike Matranga is an ex-secret service CAT and presidential protective detail member. He was the director of school safety for Texas City ISD and has served as an elected school board member. He is currently the founder and CEO of M6 Global Defense Group.

Jason Stoddard has over 20 years of experience in the school safety space. He is currently a director for a large school system in Maryland. Before joining his local school system, he spent more than 20 years in law enforcement, including a number of years as an SRO. He is also an Air Force veteran and a member of the Founding Advisory Board for ZeroNow.

The original version of this post appeared on SSI’s sister site, CampusSafety.com.

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One response to “Politics, Lobbyists and Predatory Sales Tactics Are Biggest Threats to School Safety”

  1. Roger Moore says:

    Very good article, I continue to advocate for having well trained, vetted, intervention capable people on scene everywhere students are present. The problem with putting all our efforts into target hardening and gadgets is they have a 30 year history of failure. These events are often planned in great detail to get around these efforts.

    Here is what the data show, they will get in, they will shoot one person on average every 10 seconds until the attack ends or someone makes them stop, most attacks are over in five minutes or less, most law enforcement responses are going to be more than five minutes.

    There are cost effective ways to add intervention capabilities. As attackers adjust their tactics we have to adjust our mitigation efforts. Attacks are being done before or after classes to avoid infrastructure prevention methods and maximize body counts, school buses are a particularly vulnerable area, off campus events such as graduations are all areas infrastructure alone can’t address.

    An intervention capable person can be deployed wherever the dangers are, you can’t move the window film and camera system.

    I hope we can get to an honest debate on what is really going to mitigate these events.

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