Pupil transportation officials have been increasingly concerned about the impact of community violence on students, drivers and bus aids, due to dramatic increases of community violence. The latest FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (FBIUCR) data documents 21,570 homicides in 2021, a nearly 30-percent increase over the previous year. The 5,000 more Americans murdered ranks as the largest increase in a single year since the FBI began collecting the data 60 years ago.
While subject matter experts disagree on the causes of the homicide spike, it is clear that many communities are experiencing rates of violent crime not seen since 1991, when FBIUCR documented a tragic 24,700 murders. As with other societal problems, the dramatic increase in serious violent crime in recent years is having a significant impact on many of our schools and, as an extension of the schoolhouse, on many of our nation’s approximately 500,000 K-12 school buses whose drivers now transport almost half of our nation’s approximately 55 million public school students each school day. With an estimated 10 billion student trips annually, these sobering homicide statistics are bound to have an impact on our nation’s massive fleet of school buses.
Impact On Our Schools and School Buses
While it can be difficult to measure the impact of the surge in serious violent crime on school buses, there are significant indications of increased violence. While some districts have seen reductions in overall student conduct violations, due to reduced in-person attendance and improved student supervision resulting from COVID precautions last school year, many districts are seeing significant increases in student violence. Often, community crime such as gang-related shootings are impacting their campuses and school buses.
Factors Driving Apparent Increases in K-12 School Violence
While there appear to be multiple driving factors, the hundreds of educators and law enforcement officials we have interviewed during school safety, security, climate, culture, and emergency preparedness assessments most often cite the following as perceived causal factors:
- Students who live in high-risk settings such as unstable home environments and high-crime communities have not been getting the positive climate and support they normally get at school, due to extended school closures.
- School district mental health professionals report a dramatic increase in demands for services while also often facing staff shortages due to increased vacancy rates, staff having COVID, quarantining due to exposure or to take care of sick family members.
- Vacant, reduced or eliminated staffing of school resource officers.
- Unsound versions of restorative practices, which eliminate any significant consequences for many types of physical violence, threats to carry out acts of violence, possession of a weapon (including firearms) and other precursors to the use of weapons in schools and on school buses.
- Distrust of law enforcement officials.
- Unprecedented vacancy rates and the loss of large numbers of highly experienced and well-trained personnel in many law enforcement agencies.
- Law enforcement response times of 45 minutes to more than an hour for non-emergency response calls to service many communities due to vacancies. Note that “non-emergency calls” can include an intruder boarding a school bus and beating up a driver, severe fights on a bus, etc.
- A significant reduction in proactive stops and arrests by law enforcement officers due to the lack of support by public officials and their communities.
- Many prosecutors are declining to prosecute violent offenders, or courts are releasing violent offenders with low or no bail. We note that at least one student who carried out an active shooter attack in a school was released on a $10,000 bond.
While there are other factors at play, these are among the perceived causal factors that we are hearing most often in our work with many school districts and law enforcement agencies when assessing school systems across the nation. The damage done to the violence protection approaches in the U.S. will take years to correct because of the tremendous loss of skilled and experienced police personnel and prosecutors. The lengthy delays in trials due to COVID combined with the significant increase in violent crimes will likely result the progression of many youthful offenders to levels of violent criminal activity that we have not seen in juvenile offenders in several decades.
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We are seeing some significant rejections of the approaches that have contributed to these problems in many communities. But as mentioned, it is not easy to replace a 20-year law enforcement officer or prosecutor who leaves the field or retires early due to these challenges, which involves a massive exodus of talent unlike anything I have seen in my four decades in the field.
No Easy Answers–But There are Opportunities to Reduce Risk
Because the driving factors of school violence are so complex and are affected by so many societal factors, there are no simple, inexpensive or easy answers to “solve” the problems we are facing. However, there are approaches that can reduce the risk of community violence transportation departments and drivers can take:
Correct training scars resulting from popular but dangerous active shooter training
While many school districts have used a variety of highly popular active shooter training programs, we have now seen catastrophic failures of several of these training programs with more than 50 victims being shot in just four schools where this type of training had recently been con¬ducted. These four school shootings have resulted in more than $130 million in out-of-court settlements to date.
One of the biggest problems we are seeing is that these programs often create training scars because they focus only on active shooter events, which can condition drivers to take actions that will increase rather than decrease the chances an armed individual who is not an active shooter will open fire. Examples we have seen include a hostage situation and several instances of a person brandishing but not firing a gun opening fire when a student or staff member opted to try to subdue or disarm them.
If drivers have completed this type of training, we suggest retraining on how to handle the statistically far more common incidents with firearms such as a person brandishing but not firing a weapon, a student threatening suicide with a gun, or a hostage situation.
For detailed information on how to accomplish retraining of bus drivers visit and listen to the Safe Havens International audio podcast “Lessons from Analysis of Active Shooter Incidents in 11 countries” at stnonline.com/go/br.
Training on situational awareness/pattern matching and recognition
Training and empowering drivers to use their experience to spot and not disregard anomalies based on the time, location, and actions of people that are not congruent with what they normally see can be extremely valuable.
Two free and short training videos on situational awareness and pattern matching and recognition can be found at stnonline.com/go/bt to explain these powerful concepts.
Training on verbal de-escalation techniques using evidence-based programs
This is an extremely important topical area for school bus drivers, route supervisors, office personnel, and transportation directors. Some school systems have seen reductions of assaults on district employees reduced by nearly 70 per¬cent using this type of training as well as major decreases in arrests, alternative placements and expulsions.
Training on the recognition of gang activity
Local regional and state law enforcement officers can often provide informative presentations on recognizing indications of gang activity and give advice on how to handle gang related situations drivers may encounter.
Training on radio procedures a valuable tool
Though seemingly a basic topic, it is very important that drivers are trained on how to make fast, concise radio transmissions in emergency situations while providing enough information for emergency responders to send the right resources to the correct location. A few examples include:
- Pressing the microphone to their throat to drown out background noise, if the level of noise makes it difficult for people to hear and understand what they are saying.
- Repeat their location, nature of the problem and help needed twice to reduce the chances of a miscommunication which could result in serious delays.
- If a duress (panic) system is in use, drivers need to know to provide additional information by radio or phone if and when it is safe to do so. This is also important if the duress system fails as has occurred in at least one active shooter event in a school.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the May 2022 issue of School Transportation News
The author of 28 books in his field, Michael Dorn’s school safety work has taken him to 11 countries during his more than four-decade campus safety and homeland security career. A former school district police chief, Dorn survived 16 attempts by suspects to kill him with firearms, knives, a bayonet and other weapons during his 20-year campus law enforcement career. Michael has provided official post-incident assistance for 22 active assailant and targeted school shootings in U.S., Canadian and Mexican K-12 schools. Michael welcomes reader feedback and questions at www.safehavensinternational.org.