There is an unofficial guideline for investigators that to get real facts after a security incident or crisis, one should wait for the cacophony of media and social media commentary to go by the wayside, and wait for official law enforcement or government statements. That period of time is generally seventy two hours. After the school shooting in Parkland and the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre, the clearer and consistent facts about the incident started to become known after that time period.
A recent incident in Los Angeles that occurred at a Jewish school on February 14th has caused a lot of concern at Jewish sites and particularly with schools using private armed security. I’m going to break a professional rule of not discussing operational security in a public forum and I will try to be as delicate discussing a very critical topic – school security at Jewish sites. It’s a topic very close to my heart, both personally and professionally.
Like any parent, I obviously want to send my kids to a safe and secure learning environment where they can grow and learn, despite any threats that are out there. Threats to Jewish schools and sites are r’l not new, be they potential active shooters, pedophiles, terror related, or from those behind the ever growing scourge of antisemitism.
As a security professional for over 25 years, I proudly oversee security and upgrades at a lot of Jewish schools, shuls, community centers or events. And the one thing we try to have, even at sites that are novices dealing with security or those working with very low budgets, is to guide them to hire private security or use a volunteer security team that has solid training, experience and professional standards. This takes time, training, effort and not as much money as one would be led to believe.
On February 14th, Edduin Zelayagrunfeld, a privately contracted security officer, was on duty protecting Ohel Chana Girls High School in Los Angeles. Zhoie Perez, a youtube blogger and 1st amendment rights auditor, came to film the school.
Some people have asked me, “what’s so suspicious about filming a school?”
Information gathering is a basic pre-attack strategy of school shooters and terrorists. It is a frequent occurrence and there are clear protocols set out by the Dept. of Homeland Security and other security agencies including ours, the CSO, on how to handle such behavior. If I am going to break into your home and I want the highest possible chance for success, I will watch and make sure you aren’t at home, what your patterns are and which obvious systems you have in place to protect your home. The more homework I will do will help increase my chance of success. The same applies to a terror attack.
Perez, the blogger, filmed for forty minutes outside the gates of the Synagogue and Jewish School building in the Fairfax District. As the security officer verbally engaged and filmed Perez in return, he then pulled out his handgun.
The situation escalated and a shot was fired, injuring Perez. This was an astoundingly long verbal and antagonistic encounter and thankfully no-one was killed. One can pose questions such as why did it take so long for police to show up or where was the backup for the security officer? We don’t know all the facts, even at this point.
What we do know is that the Los Angeles Police Dept. arrested the security officer on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. I am sure lawsuits will be happening soon as attorneys try to conjure up differing perspectives.
I know that every Jewish school should have armed security to delay and defend against an attacker and that all staff and students must be effectively able to lockdown quickly to delay the progress of an active shooter or attacker. I am, indeed, a proponent for gun ownership, but ONLY with common sense training and screening.
I will not second guess this incident professionally as I was not there and would need a lot more information, but even at this stage there are lessons to learn from this incident, based on the information we have thus far:
Solid tips for School Leadership to factor in when hiring a security company or officers.
I obviously cannot go into detail on operational best practices, but here are some common sense fundamentals you can apply today:
Staff Training – Are your staff trained in simple, clear security protocols? Your students will look to them to be leaders in a crisis. Your staff look to you for that guidance and training before, not after the fact.
Auditing and oversight of hired security – Does the security company have more than adequate insurance? Do you get copies of the licensing of the company and the security officer on your site? Have you interviewed the security officer? Did someone run a background check on the person you are authorizing to carry a firearm or be a first responder to a security emergency?
Volunteer security training – A great way to get parents involved, trained and to bring down security costs, is to set up, train and insure a volunteer security team. They can be armed or unarmed and given life-saving skills. They are a familiar face to parents, staff and students and have “skin in the game”. We do it at many sites and can go into detail if you wish to contact us.
Less lethal – If your state or school board don’t allow firearms at school with a licensed security officer, can your security officer be equipped with a Taser, Baton or Pepper Spray? Security officers should ALWAYS have a less lethal option. Having a gun is not a panacea to security challenges nor does it give you the ability to deescalate a situation. Each school needs a wide variety of tools to deal with different situations. A gun or any weapon for that matter are simply a tool. Common sense must be applied first when using these tools and tragedy will occur if the user is not experienced, well trained or does not deal well under extreme stress.
Scenario training – It’s much better for all to train and see reactions in a controlled practiced environment than during an incident. Much like a fire drill. It’s a must to practice and then identify challenges and solutions.
Backup – Never engage someone you are concerned about without backup or at least notifying a colleague that you need assistance.
Roles and Responsibilities – What happens when your only SO goes into action – what do other staff inside do? Everyone has a role to play in an emergency situation, give it to them.
You get what you pay for – Everyone is on a budget. However, remember when you hire private security, the company has to take a cut, then pay insurance and taxes and then pay the security officer who is getting maybe 65% of the hourly rate you are being charged. No one says you have to pay for a Navy Seal, but our greatest treasures, our kinderlach, are being protected by this person. The appropriate and professional reaction of security is critical.
Insurance and liability – Does your insurance incorporate having armed security. Have you talked to your insurance provider about the fact that you are a Jewish school that has privately contracted armed security? Are you covered in the event of an incident? Does the security company have active, current and ample liability coverage in case of an incident. You must insulate yourself against legal issues after the fact, as well.
Engage your security officer -Treat them like a mentsch, incorporate them into your staff group, events and give them a treat once in a while.
Zalman Myer-Smith is the Executive Director of www.thecso.org, a Florida based volunteer Community Security Organization liaising, training, and working with law enforcement agencies and serving Jewish community synagogues, schools, and centers. Zalman is also the Director of Security for both Lubavitch Educational Center in Miami and for Chabad of Florida.