Avoiding a Damaging Loss of Trust in the School Safety Arena

Whether you are a democrat who leans far to the left of your party, a republican who is oriented towards the far right of yours or like most folks, you are somewhere in between, you may be deeply concerned about our country right now. Regardless of political affiliation, you are likely concerned about the economy and other key issues. Like many people, you may now lack faith due to the constant lack of cooperation between our elected officials in Washington. Though spirited debate and even downright verbal altercations between some of our leaders has been a recurring feature of our form of governance, the low levels of confidence and high levels of dissatisfaction expressed by many Americans do seem to be more problematic than is normally the case. These catfights stem from a complicated range of causes among them, an unusually high level of divisiveness among our elected officials. The current intensity of the blame game, finger pointing, name calling, desperate distortions of fact and the occasional outright sickening personal attacks have created a fair amount of dysfunction, anxiety and a serious lack of confidence according to pundits and polling data. Our congress in particular appears to have lost the confidence of many of its constituents. The current infighting and resulting loss of trust of large segments of the American public offers valuable lessons for those in the school safety field. Just as our elected officials and the various organs of government they serve can fall into disfavor and suffer from credibility problems, so to can schools, school systems and local public safety agencies. Though the politics that cause these situations have a different dynamic, they are often political in nature nonetheless. The current lack of confidence in our elected leaders is taking a heavy toll on our economy and is causing serious long-term harm to our country and its citizens. As recent events have demonstrated, the loss of confidence in government leaders is not confined to our nation, but the damage to credibility here at home is readily apparent. As one indicator, take the steady erosion of the respect for the office of the president. It used to bug me a bit to hear journalists from abroad refer to our nation’s leader as “Mr.” instead of “President”. In recent years, our own media has often adopted the practice of using “Mr. Bush” and ‘Mr. Obama” as well. This lack of respect for the office of the president is an indication of an overall lack of respect for elected officials. Authorities on language such as experts in statement analysis emphasize how powerful and important our choice of words can be. I may be rather old fashioned in this regard, but I do feel that it is symptomatic of a culture that has become deeply distrustful not only of elected officials, but of others in positions of authority such as school superintendents, police chiefs and other types of leaders as well. This type of distrust and even dysfunction can also occur in the arena of K-12 education. When a major incident occurs or is mishandled because of a lack of cooperation between school and/or public safety officials in the community, everyone loses. In such cases, not only do victims and their loved ones suffer, but so do the organizations that are perceived as having dropped the ball which are often viewed negatively for long periods of time. If we step back from these situations, it becomes clear that they sometimes occur from some form of office, organizational or community politics. When tragedy reveals such problems, there is plenty of blame to go around whether it surfaces in the media, in school safety litigation or on a personal level to those who experience the event. Taking the time and expending the sometimes-significant effort to build bridges instead of fences between people, departments and organizations can prevent not only a good tar and feathering, but can avert considerable pain and suffering as well.


About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.