Image of child holding sign reading 'Protect My Kids'

With each new piece of information that has come to light in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a picture emerges of a local government unprepared to effectively respond to the type of crisis that has been plaguing our nation since 1999.

Over the coming months, local, state, and federal agencies will dissect the actions and lack of action of the law enforcement agents on and behind the scene. But even in incidents where the public safety, school, and other local government officials have acted in an exemplary fashion, the murder of children and educators is something from which communities can never fully recover.

The feeling that most surfaces as I talk to our members about this issue is frustration. What can we be doing now to keep our children safe? In the Voices in Local Government podcast, “What Are You Doing About School Shootings? Strategies for the Seemingly Impossible Question CAOs Must Face,” several concrete ideas are discussed, including the following:

Use Your Power to Convene

Hold a tabletop exercise with all relevant parties. Although this is focused on crisis management, bringing people together will build relationships, uncover concerns, and ensure that everyone understands each other’s roles. Sarah Peck of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) wrote a fantastic article in the July issue of PM magazine, “Until We Find a Way to Prevent Mass Shootings, Your City Needs to Prepare.” PHAI also developed a very helpful template for holding a tabletop exercise in your community.

Communicate with Residents

Local governments share safety messages with the community regularly, and in the aftermath of an incident that has captured national attention, communicating about the importance of securing guns at home is a powerful message. Gun advocates stress that the most important thing gun owners can do to prevent guns from being stolen or used by their children is to keep their weapons in a gun safe.

Review School Safety Protocols

You can demonstrate your interest and support for your local school district by asking that they walk you through their safety protocols. The COPS program publication, “Ten Essential Actions to Improve School Safety,” can be used as a guide in facilitating conversations with your local school districts in the spirit of mutual care and concern for the safety of students and teachers.

Connect with Public Health Officials

Request a report that assesses the mental health system and resources available to students and at-risk segments of your community. This provides an opportunity to ask how the city can advocate for the school district in terms of resources needed for students in crisis. One of our managers delayed his city’s budget process because he felt that allocations for school resource officers, school mental health services, and other budgetary items connected to prevention were not sufficient and needed to be re-evaluated.

One of the most compelling PM articles and reports on gun violence focuses on the Parkland, Florida school shootings. The article poses seven key questions a manager and police chief can ask to help prevent an incident like the one that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

ICMA partner and provider of public safety technical assistance, the Center for Public Safety Management, can help communities assess whether their staffing levels and policies ensure that police are regularly interacting with the community. You can reach out directly to the center’s director Tom Wieczorek at tweiczorek@cpsm.us.

Leadership Before, During, and After a Crisis,” a digital ICMA publication, contains research that points to lessons learned from managers who have faced mass shootings and suggests skills and abilities that managers must continue to develop. Our gun violence topic page on icma.org features additional content.

As the number of school shootings and other mass shootings continue to multiply, another important step is to tap into the collective wisdom of our members. As we prepare for the ICMA Annual Conference in September, we intend to convene a forum, including partners in law enforcement, policy development, and education. In advance of that event, we hope to hear from you. We have begun to collect timely prevention-oriented examples of leading practices from your communities. Please feel free to share your examples and thoughts via ICMA Connect or directly to me or to Tad McGalliard. The goal is to do everything in our power to keep our children safe.

 

MARC OTT is CEO/executive director of ICMA, Washington, D.C.
Photo of Marc Ott

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