The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was an act of indescribable evil. Shortly after, people understandably began searching for a motive. How could someone have done this? If we can understand the motive, then we can develop a way to prevent others from carrying out a similar crime. But this type of thinking rarely gets us anywhere. It’s more important to figure out how to prevent future acts like this in our schools.

We pat ourselves on the back (and rightly so) for the rapid-response training that was instituted for patrol officers in post-Columbine active-shooter situations. Handling these situations at the patrol level is an excellent response. We don’t wait for SWAT now but react immediately once the shots-fired calls start coming in. Also, in many locations we have done a good job of hardening the target. Many schools, such as Sandy Hook Elementary, have sole points of entry with access controlled by school staff. But these protections did not prove to be enough.

Here is a basic fact of life: If the police have to respond to a situation from another location, they will arrive too late. Our latest information is that the Sandy Hook killer shot himself when the first patrol officers arrived. Such cowards inflict all kinds of pain on men, women and children, but cannot face the ensuing consequences. Rather than risk being wounded or roughed up, these cowards take their own lives instead. Yes, the officers in Connecticut stopped the carnage when they arrived, but not until the shooter had killed a total of six adults and 20 children (in addition to himself and his mother).

Never Off Duty
Last time I checked our oath of office—you know, the one where we swear to defend and protect—there was no qualifying statement that said, “Only while we are being paid.” We swore our lives to protecting others and we can stop these massacres in our schools. We can do it right now, right this second.

The enemy is at the gates, and we need to defend those gates, in this case the perimeters of our schools. We, the police, need to be the overwatch—at no charge if necessary—on the perimeters of our schools. I believe we should volunteer our time, whether our status is full-time, part-time or reserve. Imagine if one such officer had been on the perimeter at Sandy Hook Elementary.

While federal law prohibits you full-timers from working your standard duties for free, it does not prohibit you from being on property in a POV while off duty. If your time is limited, perhaps Instead of volunteering to coach a team or be on the PTA, volunteer to protect these activities. With the bad economy and budget cuts, there isn’t enough money to pay you for this. It is time to step into the breach and fill any gaps in security.

This was my first reaction at my police department. I spent my Christmas vacation at our schools, until those kids went on their break, ready to interdict anyone who should attempt such an attack in my jurisdiction. And the parents and teachers were appreciative. Now that school is back in session, I spend one or two days a week covering those buildings. Organize with your fellow officers, split up the coverage, take turns, but give your time. If we all do this, not one of those cowards shall pass and not one more innocent will die.

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The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was an act of…