Keeping Perspective on School Safety

We can debate how often and under what circumstances to take the things that people say literally, but when it comes to public policy, clarity of thought helps us keep a sense of proportion. In other words, it seems like we should probably take this statement from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo pretty literally:

“I worry about my kids’ safety every time I send them off to school, particularly in light of the tragedies we’ve seen recently,” Raimondo said [when she released her school safety plan in August]. “No parent should have to worry that their child’s school doesn’t have the proper safeguards in place, and schools shouldn’t have to wait to make simple upgrades. This funding will help ensure that our school buildings are secure and safe, while remaining welcoming learning environments.”

Does the governor really worry every single school-day morning?  I tend to doubt that, and if it’s true, she should probably find another school (or a therapist).

This isn’t to diminish the justified concerns that parents have in particular circumstances, especially involving schools in tougher urban areas, but the subject comes up, here, related to putting police officers in schools in response to school shootings.  If, as a community, we decide we’re going to take that step, fine, but we don’t seem to be approaching it rationally.

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The odds that abnormal violence will occur at a given school are vanishingly small, and the odds that it will experience a school shooting are even smaller.  At the same time, it costs money to pay a police officer to be on the campus all day.  Rhode Island has 306 public schools.  If we figure an average of $100,000 per year for pay and benefits for each officer, that’s $30.6 million to cover all of them, and most days would be spent looking for things to do.

Even if, as Raimondo’s Republican challenger, Allan Fung, has suggested, we find money for this project in the existing state budget, that’s still money coming from somewhere, and we have no ability to assess the risks that we create by claiming it for this purpose.  There are just under 100,000 public schools in the United States.  Let’s suppose there will be three school shootings every year.  That’s a 0.003% chance for each school.  The cost of complete coverage with resource officers would be about $10 billion, and we already know that having armed security is not proof against a school shooting or even a sure bet to limit its scope, so some risk remains — maybe most of it.

At the same time, what is the risk that taking $10 billion out of the economy would leave an equivalent number of people unable to make safety repairs to homes or cars or leave people jobless and suicidal?  We couldn’t possibly begin to guess, which is why we should be careful to assess risks realistically and never forget that taxpayer funds don’t just appear from nowhere.

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