Attorney General Thurbert Baker announced today that he had created a task force of Attorneys General from around the nation to examine legal issues related to school violence and safety. Baker, currently serving as President of the National Association of Attorneys General, named Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch as chairs of the Task Force on School Safety.
In light of recent outbreaks of violence on college campuses and schools, Attorney General Baker will work with his colleagues in the National Association of Attorneys General on the task force to identify legal and policy barriers to ensure that students have safe learning environments.
“As the chief legal officers of our respective jurisdictions, Attorneys General have a unique role in implementing steps to ensure that all places of learning are safe, secure and free from the disruptive influences of fear and violence,” said Attorney General Baker “All Attorneys General have a responsibility in dealing with the aftermath of violence in our schools.”
The Task Force, chaired by Attorneys General Suthers and Lynch, will work to identify innovative programs, policies, and legislative initiatives that may serve to fill in the gaps in existing school safety protocols. Task Force members also will examine key relationships that Attorneys General must build to effectively address school violence and safety issues, including those with educators, law enforcement, and public and private educational advocacy groups.
“There are a number of critical areas this task force must address, including examining strategies for improving inter-agency communication and training to strengthen response by law enforcement to crisis situations that occur in the educational environment,” Attorney General Lynch said. “Attorneys General are well-equipped to assist local law enforcement authorities and make recommendations on where our jurisdictions stand in terms of crisis preparedness.”
On May 3, several former Attorneys General now serving in the United States Senate wrote to Attorneys General asking them to assess the state of campus security around the country and make recommendations for improvements. U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman (CT), Mark Pryor (AR), Ken Salazar (CO), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) asked Attorneys General to respond to questions surrounding contingency trainings, safety practices, and emergency notification procedures, as well as actions the federal government can take to facilitate emergency planning and law enforcement response on college campuses.
“Unfortunately, this is not a new topic for Attorneys General,” NAAG President Thurbert Baker said. “In 1999, Attorneys General issued a national report on youth violence and school safety following a spate of fatal school shootings in Colorado and Mississippi. Now, we’re planning to revisit those recommendations and, hopefully, identify even better measures states can adopt to create safer environments for our children.”
Recent statistics indicate that the rate of serious violent crime has fallen and that college campuses are relatively safe places on which students can live and learn. Since the early 1990s, there have been on average 20 murders on campuses each year, out of some 16 million students who attend annually, according to a recent report in U.S. News and World Report.
However, the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech underscores the need for continued work by Attorneys General, law enforcement, school officials, mental health experts, and other groups to ensure a learning environment that is free from violence.
"I am pleased to accept the responsibility of chairing this task force," commented Attorney General Suthers. "The nation's Attorneys General, as a group, issued a report on school safety in 1999. Much has been learned since then, and I believe we can significantly contribute to the ongoing discussion of school and campus security."
According to Attorney General Baker, “We need to develop best practices and solutions to put a stop to these senseless acts of violence.”
Experts in school security, behavioral specialists, educators, students, and other advocates will be invited to meet with Attorneys General in order to develop a comprehensive report with recommendations to the states in September.