Though I decline most of the requests I get to serve as an expert witness for school security cases, I do find the few cases I accept to be a great way to learn to serve our clients better. As with my experiences as a law enforcement officer, my school security expert witness experiences and consulting sessions with clients for years have all shown me that thoughtful documentation can help to reduce exposure to civil liability while improving school security.
During site visits for school security assessments for both a public school system and an independent school last week, the same issue arose. Both school organizations had taken some impressive steps to enhance school security. At the same time, both organizations had sometimes failed to create effective documentation for some of the measures they had implemented. Taking the time to develop systems to document efforts to improve school security can be easy and well worthwhile.
For example, one practice we implemented early in my career as a school district police chief was to create a simple diagram outlining police coverage for every school athletic event. Our department designated an officer to supervise each event. This officer was required to develop a diagram depicting each officer’s areas of responsibility at various times. For example, for a football game, the diagram would show where a particular officer was to patrol during the game, during half-time and where they might need to move to at the end of the game. By noting the officer’s name on the diagram, we were able to make sure that each officer clearly understood where they were supposed to be and where they needed to move to at various times. This eliminated any confusion about who was supposed to be where. At the same time, this created a documentation trail that could easily be produced if we were litigated as the result of a safety or security incident.
Though fights were occurring at almost every football game our district held, this approach dramatically reduced them. Implementing a standard practice of prosecuting anyone under the age of 21 who was found to be under the influence of alcohol reduced fights even further. These approaches combined with banning anyone wearing gang attire and prosecuting anyone who intentionally struck another person made fights a rarity at our athletic events.
Doing the right thing, combined with solid and accurate documentation will not only reduce the chances that schools will be successfully litigated, it will more importantly reduce the chances that something will happen to provide a reason for litigation in the first place.