By Brad Jones
FOR THE COLORADO STATESMAN
After shots rang out 11 years ago at Columbine High School, Colorado became the “epicenter of the problem of violence in our schools,” according to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. Delivering remarks at the state’s annual school safety conference Wednesday, the top prosecutor said there are still lots to be done to secure campuses but also highlighted evidence of progress.
The timing of the “Safe Schools” conference was eerily coincidental as shots rang out the day before at a middle school in Jefferson County, where two students were struck with non-life threatening injuries before a shooter, now in custody, was wrestled to the ground.
Crime scene tape still crisscrossed the parking lot at Deer Creek Middle School last Wednesday morning as Suthers addressed a packed room of educators from districts across Colorado. Details of Tuesday’s shooting were still being pieced together by investigators, but Suthers said training and preparedness prompted by the Columbine tragedy helped the Deer Creek faculty respond swiftly.
The Deer Creek shooting “reminded us of how difficult is to protect our children from mentally ill outsiders,” Suthers said. Suspect Bruco Eastwood, a former student at the school, sports a long rap sheet of violent offenses in his adult life.
Even though recent events provide urgency to the issue of school safety, Suthers says national data shows schools are, by and large, safe places for students and teachers. “Only a small fraction of serious crimes occur at school,” he said. “Students are twice as likely to be victimized at home as they are at school, and three times as likely to be victimized in the after school hours … than they are during school hours.”
Information-sharing efforts like the state’s Safe2Tell school safety hotline have produced a modest number of law-enforcement successes, including interventions preventing student suicide and aggressive bullying, in addition to thwarting potential attacks.
School violence in the decade after the attacks at Columbine were fewer in number than those in the preceding ten years, Suthers said.
In a busy week for school safety in the news, the CSU Board of Governors last Tuesday unanimously approved a controversial rule to ban concealed-carry permit holders from possessing firearms on campus. Pro-gun groups say they plan to sue to block implementation, scheduled for this fall.