Source: | Author: Mike Ryan and Christine Hunschofsky | Date: August 16, 2019
“Post-Parkland: Keeping schools safe and secure is a collective community mission | Opinion”

In the disorienting moments after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a fog of disbelief, pain, grief, fury, and blame made visualizing the path ahead seem near impossible. In time, the demand for answers transformed to include the need for solutions.

In March 2018, the Broward League of Cities created the School and Community Public Safety Task Force. We did not set out to deconstruct the specific events of February 14, 2018; that was a mission for others. Our mission was to examine what we needed to do to improve school security and safety and identify solutions to address broader community resiliency issues as rapidly as possible.

On June 4, 2018, we issued a lengthy and detailed initial report, which contained 102 discrete recommendations requiring enhanced vigilance, accelerated action, and legislative attention. This past week, we issued a follow-up report addressing the status of the 102 recommendations along with 17 additional recommendations.

From better and more mental health funding to improving emergency radio communications to ensuring every school has security officers, the Task Force found a lot of work remains to be done by everyone in our community.

The voluntary collaboration of community stakeholders was unprecedented. The discussions were honest and sometimes difficult. It is never easy for caring and well-meaning people to critically examine what should have been done differently. From the process, we learned some things.

There is an amazing capacity and desire in our community to do better. Our process was certainly influenced by the swirling community outrage and calls for accountability. But, productive dialogues can lead to real solutions.

Time and again, we saw segmentation amongst well-intentioned organizations leading to sub-optimal responses to what our community needed. Tearing down silos eliminates hurdles to finding solutions.

Productive dialogues led to re-enforcing existing school policies, refining or generating new policies, centralizing access for all school cameras, and introduction of some school hardening strategies. The SaferWatch mobile app now allows tips to be reported anonymously to BSO and the school district. We recognize that oversight, vigilance and accountability must be a daily mission.

However, our mission is far from accomplished. Woefully inadequate state funding for school mental health professionals makes it impossible at the local level to avert the next catastrophe. Trauma is not just from mass-events, but occurs for many students in their daily and family lives.

Our community mental health response to the tragedy was uncoordinated and unprepared, both in the acute and long-term phases. Centralizing mental health trauma responses, through, for instance, a mental health incident commander, would better reflect what we have learned from our response to the mass shooting.

Sadly, it is not possible to harden an entire community from mass tragedies or even focal gun violence. Florida law now allows courts to take away and prohibit possession of firearms by those who pose a threat to themselves or others. In Broward County, since April 2018, more than 300 court orders, after full due process, have prohibited purchase and possession of firearms, as well as resulting in seizure of hundreds of firearms.

While these court orders are entered into the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database system used for firearm background checks, private sales of guns not involving licensed gun dealers do not require background checks. Without universal background checks, it’s only a matter of time before someone — who everyone agrees should not possess a firearm — will buy a gun in a private sale leading to a preventable catastrophe.

Countywide, our public safety radio system is at end of life. We must accelerate the installation of radio towers and the implementation of the new radio system

Currently, individual municipalities fund the majority of the costs for School Resource Officers. As a result, some municipalities do not provide full time SROs or any SROs in some schools. The implementation of the Armed Guardian program to help meet the new statutory requirements for school security has been challenging for the School Board due to enforcing necessary hiring standards and attrition. It is imperative that we find fair and sustainable funding solutions to ensure SROs in every public school.

The Florida Constitution is explicit: the State has an obligation to make adequate provision for safe and secure public schools. But there is an inescapable conclusion. As a community, we can always do more to protect our schools and community, while providing the care we know is necessary to avert future catastrophes. Our collective mission is to keep trying to do better.

Mike Ryan, mayor of Sunrise, is a co-chair of the Broward League of Cities School and Community Public Safety Task Force. Christine Hunschofsky, mayor of Parkland, is a member of the Task Force.