Many of the recommendations focus on school safety, from increasing the number of school resources officers assigned to K-12 schools, to designing and remodeling school buildings to improve security and lessen the potential carnage of a mass shooting. A final report to the Legislature is due Dec. 1.
A list of 25 recommendations aimed at preventing mass shootings was finalized this week by members of a statewide task force, with a full report to the state Legislature due Dec. 1.
Eighteen of the recommendations speak directly to school safety, with the task force recommending funds be made available for additional school-resource officers in elementary, middle and high schools and that state money should go to community and technical colleges to fund a law-enforcement presence on campus.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, was able to secure $50,000 from the general fund last session for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) to convene a work group “to develop strategies for identification and intervention against potential perpetrators of mass shootings, with an emphasis on school safety, and report on recommendations for their prevention,” according to the measure.
The task force — made up of representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, law enforcement agencies, institutions of higher learning, the American Civil Liberties Union, the State Patrol and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction — met a handful of times since spring, said Tricia Gullion, a spokeswoman for O’Ban.
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O’Ban supports the recommendations but there’s no way to tell what the Legislature will choose to do with them, Gullion said.
“It’s up in the air. There’s really no telling what they’ll do,” she said of lawmakers, who will convene in January.
While some of the recommendations appear to require only minor legislative fixes, others — like the recommendation to improve the overall mental-health system in Washington — would require a significant allocation of money and resources to implement.
The recommendations make student safety paramount in the wake of such horrific mass killings as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings, where 20 of the 27 victims were children, or the murders of 17 students at Stoneman Douglas High School by a gunman in Florida earlier this year. The report was issued in the shadow of the killings of 12 people at a “college night” celebration at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, Thursday night.
The task force believes that keeping kids out of trouble in the first place is key to reducing any threat.
“K-12 school resource officers should focus on keeping students out of the criminal justice system when possible, and should not be used to attempt to impose criminal sanctions for matters that are more appropriately handled within the educational system,” one recommendation reads.
Schools should encourage students to report suspicious behaviors of other students and need to encourage an “if you see something, say something” sentiment and ensure there’s a way for students to make such concerns known to officials. Districts should strive to educate students on what sorts of behaviors to look out for, according to the recommendations.
The task force also recommended use of a standardized multistage process to assess threat levels in all schools in the state, from kindergarten through university. The assessments should be fact-based on exhibited student behaviors, not the characteristics of individual students, the document says.
“Special attention and consideration should be given to threat assessments involving students with Individual Education Programs, disabilities, or other special needs,” the recommendations say.
When appropriate, law enforcement and social-service providers should also be notified when a student returns to a K-12 school under a “re-engagement plan” after being suspended or expelled for violent or threatening behavior, according to the recommendations.
Another recommendation is for K-12 schools to be designed or remodeled “with security and mitigation/minimization of mass shooting events in mind,” including the physical design of buildings, the number and location of entrances and exits and the ability to lock individual rooms.
The task force also recommended that more money go toward raising awareness and helping police enforce Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO).
The “extreme risk” law, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2016 and went into effect earlier this year, allows police or family members to ask a judge to remove guns or keep firearms out of the hands of people believed to pose a danger to themselves or others even if there is no criminal behavior.
“There appears to be legitimate question of whether or not ERPOs can be sought against a juvenile, who does not have the legal right to own firearms under Washington law, but does have the right to access and possess firearms under certain circumstances,” the task force wrote. “The Legislature should modify the ERPO statute to make it clear that ERPOs can be sought against a juvenile, and ERPOs should not unnecessarily publicly label a juvenile in a way that will impact them for the rest of their lives.”
Under current law, violating an ERPO — that is, possessing, purchasing or controlling a firearm when under court order not to do so — is a gross misdemeanor on a first and second offense, with a loss of firearm rights for five years after the order expires. Subsequent offenses are Class C felonies.
The task force recommended that a second conviction for violating an ERPO should result in forfeiture of an individual’s right to bear arms.