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Prevention of lethal violence in schools: Proposal to deploy patrol dogs on campuses

Dr John GUIGNARD 1 year ago   Reply

White Paper GB-WP-2012-08 by J C Guignard*, Principal Scientist, Guignard Biodynamics, Metairie, Louisiana, USA

INTRODUCTION

The country and the world have been dismayed by the murder of 20 young children and six women who were teachers or administrators at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut by a suicidal gunman armed with a rapid-fire rifle and other firearms. The school reportedly was security-aware and had in place a theoretically sound system for “buzzing in” visitors to the building during school hours.

But the attacker (in the “crazy, but not stupid” category) by-passed that system by breaking in through glass. Since that preventable tragedy (following some 30 similar lethal attacks since Columbine, many if not most on academic campuses), there has been a predictable nationwide eruption of comment, much of it political; some of it centered on early detection of mental health problems in young male adults (the principal demographic in such incidents); but most of it centered on the supposed need to ban, in particular, military-style assault weapons and their accoutrements (such as high-capacity magazines). More misguided suggestions have included the arming of school teachers and students; resort to robotic emerging technology devices (including drones); or turning schools into fortresses with electric fences, armed guards on every campus (as proposed by the NRA) and maybe even watch towers. There has been the inevitable dusting-off and reinterpretation of the Second Amendment by countless newspaper editorials and talking heads on television.

Historically, bans on anything harmful that can be manufactured, bought and sold – from alcoholic beverages during Prohibition, though narcotic drugs since the postwar period, to the assault rifles banned in many states today – have by and large been costly and ineffective; and often an incentive to wider crime. As a coauthor of the paper referenced below*, I am chagrined that our advocacy of entry-point weapons screening to protect schools advanced in that paper, written more than 10 years ago (after Columbine), and recognizing that lethal violence on campuses and such is a public health and human factors problem, would not have prevented the Sandy Hook assault or many of the similar preceding incidents in public spaces (likely including even Columbine, which happened on a campus where there were already armed guards). What is needed is immediate, reliable detection of an intruder or an abnormal visitor even as he/she (whether visibly armed or not) approaches or sets foot on campus property. The abnormality to be swiftly detected lies not in physical appearance or apparel but in behavior.

  • * Dr J C Guignard is a research physician with a background in physics, who for several years conducted aerospace physiological research for, successively, the US Air Force and the US Navy. Since leaving the federal service, he has worked as an independent researcher and consultant in human factors and ergonomics, with particular reference to disaster preparedness and response. In 2002 he was a coauthor of “Preventing lethal violence in schools: the case for entry-based weapons screening.” Mawson AR, Lapsley PM, Hoffman A, Guignard J.Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, 2002; 27:243-260.

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DOGS - RATIONALE 

It is proposed that service or working dogs such as police-type K-9s (or K9s) be deployed on school and academic campuses (in numbers depending on the size and compexity of the campus), specially trained, with their owner-handlers, to spot or sniff out and challenge intruders, including deranged, unusually nervous, out-of-place or abnormally acting persons.

 Depending on the species, large dogs can outrun (at 30 mph or more), corner, and if necessary take down a human intruder. The animals' ability to swiftly roam an entire campus (even narrow spaces between and underneath buildings); their unpredictability of direction and action as seen by the average human; and their capacity for drawing attention to and threatening an intruder by posture, jumping, growling and barking, would serve to deter and scare off or at least distract many potential attackers; and to corner and alert the campus and its human guards to the presence of even the most determined intruder. The mere presence of police-type dogs loose on a campus would be a deterrent to most opportunistic attackers.

 It is well established and applied in clinical medicine that dogs of many breeds appear to have the ability to sense a variety of psychiatric disorders (as well as other medical conditions in which a patient is temporarily deranged physiologically, eg, due to an impending diabetic, seizure or asthmatic attack). It is therefore likely that dogs would sense much more quickly and intently than can human guards that an unexpected campus visitor, if not actually mentally deranged, was proceeding or acting abnormally while under the influence of anger, vengefulness, a delusion, or even drugs or alcohol, and challenge that intruder. The dog would not necessarily need to spot a weapon to sense the abnormality of the intruder's smell, gait, eccentricity of movement or other features of a hostile approach to school buildings.

Types, equipment and training of dog

Working dogs favored for military and police work would be the breeds of choice, including for example, the German shepherd, labrador, rottweiler and Belgian malinois; but some smaller breeds may also be suitable, including some as small as beagles (familiar in airports as explosive sniffer dogs) with demonstrable skills in sniffing or otherwise perceiving human psychological, physiological or behavioral abnormality. All campus patrol dogs would be neutered. Short-haired breeds are to be preferred as less susceptible to heat stroke when “on duty” in hot weather.

 The use of trained dogs (like police dogs) on campuses should be viewed sympathetically by the public at large; and would essentially do away with the odious need for humans to engage in profiling their fellow-citizens. Campus perimeters should be clearly posted “Patrol Dogs.”

While “on duty,” the dogs would wear a distinctive jacket, similar to that worn by police dogs, with some such inscription as “Campus Patrol” to make their presence and function clear to all. The jacket could be embellished conservatively with the school's colors, motto or badge. Body armor would not be recommended for the dogs but may be optional for the handler (as may a firearm). Once an intruder shoots recklessly at either a patrol dog or a handler, his/her hostile intentions would be immediately apparent; police backup summoned; and the intruder's chances of then breaking into the school thwarted by defensive and lock-down procedures.

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Campus patrol dogs would be cared for from puppyhood by their handlers; trained to be perceptive of human behavioral abnormality; and trained to be highly resistant to distraction - eg, by food or dogspray carried by an intruder; by attention from children and teachers at the school (see below); by gunshots and other loud noises; and even by the unexpected, such as low-flying aircraft, having their name called, or a stray dog or cat running onto the campus. They should be familiarized with their entire campus; and trained to use a special area separate from children's play areas for elimination purposes. A working life of about 5-7 years would be anticipated, with annual veterinary check-ups. As in the case of police dogs, it would be a felony to intentionally kill or harm a school patrol dog. Retired patrol dogs would be adoptable as pets by their handlers or members of their families.

Dogs and children

It is to be expected that most children and many teachers and staff in schools would want to befriend the patrol dogs and perhaps come to regard them as school mascots or pets. Interactions, however, would have to be carefully disciplined. School rules must be written and strictly enforced to prevent any approaches to or petting of the dogs by children or staff while a dog is “on duty,” ie, whenever it is wearing its campus patrol jacket. Children and staff must be instructed specifically to steer clear of a jacketed dog and drop to the floor or hide in the unlikely event that it chases an intruder into a school building. At other times, when the dog is not “on duty,” it may be befriended by children and staff at the discretion of its handler. The children should be taught to keep patrols dogs' names secret if discovered.

Handlers

The dogs' human handlers (not necessarily active duty police officers) should be US citizens or legal residents of the state in which their duties are performed; and be subject to annual tests of medical and psychological fitness, including night vision. They should be able to lift 50 lbs or their own dog (whichever is the greater weight). They may be military veterans; police or fire department retirees; or other qualified individuals able to train, care for and handle their dog; and able to be deputized. Handlers should be paid an hourly, on-duty wage by the school* and provided with funds sufficient for the keep and care of their dog; and for essential veterinary expenses. They should also be provided with a uniform, or at least a tunic with features that can be made familiar to their dog by scent and other senses, to wear while on duty.

Handlers should undergo and be proficient in firearms training but need not be armed when on duty: arming should be at the discretion of the school board or appropriate authority. When two or more pairs of dogs and handlers are deployed on a campus, each handler should be thoroughly familiarized with all the dogs and vice versa; and the dogs trained to be obedient to any of the campus handlers. The need for specific familiarization is important here because a determined intruder in the “crazy but not stupid” category might just be capable of dressing up as a dog handler and bringing his/her own dog onto the campus.

  • * If found to be an effective defense force for schools, dogs could also be deployed in other public or semi-public settings that are vulnerable and attractive to potential mass-murderers, such as hospitals, malls, libraries, workplaces and transportation centers (explosive-sniffer dogs are already a familiar sight at airports, where they are accepted as people-friendly and enhance public confidence).

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Priorities

Inasmuch as there are perhaps upwards of 100,000 public school campuses and at least an estimated 30,000 private schools, academic or other institutional campuses in the country, it would likely take some time (months to years) to reach the ideal of providing every one daily with a trained patrol dog and handler. However, some interim options suggest themselves, for example:

On a county or parish basis, mobile school patrol squads of dogs and handlers need to be formed that are deployed on duty on every campus from time to time, irregularly, according to a classified schedule, until full strength in that jurisdiction can be built up. All campuses would be posted to the effect that dogs are on patrol but potential intruders would not know on which days or on which campuses dogs were actually to be encountered.

Certain campuses could be designated on a priority need basis to be first in line to receive a permanent dog and handler team(s). The designation could be based on a points system, with points allocated according to such factors as the school's access and perimeter vulnerability; classroom size; student-teacher ratio; and lock-down capability. All school administrative staff, teachers and students should receive education and briefings on the purpose of campus dog patrols; and the adults and children at every school, as well as local parent-teacher associations, given an opportunity to meet and greet campus patrol dogs and handlers in their duty gear.

All, especially the children, should be instructed to regard campus patrol dogs as friends but not pets. It is not recommended that the handlers should maintain a police or military appearance (wearing helmets and camouflage outfits, or displaying firearms, for example) but rather be clad to resemble safety authority figures with whom schoolchildren are already familiar, such as street-crossing guards.

© 2012, 2013 John C Guignard

Informed comments on the merits or flaws  of this idea are invited from all sources. Comments by e-mail are preferred.

Hi John,

Thanks for joining the community and participating.

Thanks,

-Lauren Modeen

Jay Jack 1 year ago   Reply

John,

Fine piece of work, truly excellent. Playing devil's advocate, I have a few points to ponder:

1, As an increasing number of children are being diagnosed with mental health issues, how might we be certain that a properly trained dog will not key in on a behavior by a child that has not genuine malice behind it, but would indeed trigger a response from the dog at a sufficient distance from the handler as to not be within immediate recall distance.?

2. With the litigation happy society we have, how might we combat the challenge of parents whose children might have allegies, who may insist on dogs such as labradoodles ( a breed that being in the kennel business for years that we found to be of generally good nature, but not ideal for the tasks suggested)?

Again, I applaude your efforts, and whole-heatedly agree on your suggestion as it would employ both a trained officer and a generally non-lethal response to the issue at hhand. In a high number of these cases, being challenged would be the level of deterence it would take to halt the tragedy before it happens.