Memes and Vets and Critical Thinking, oh my

I come from a family with quite a few veterans in it. My grandfather in WWII. My father in Viet Nam. My uncles served around the world in different branches, one of which when he retired from service continued to work with the military from the private sector. Growing up I wanted to follow in their footsteps, although for any number of reasons the opportunity didn’t happen that way, but that’s another story.

The recent spate of multiple victim shootings, particularly those happening in schools has given rise to sharp criticism from all sides of the political spectrum on how violence occurs and the proper measures to curtail it. Some would like more guns … while others would like less. This isn’t a post about either of those positions and their flaws or merits.

Rather, each time one of these tragedies occurs in any kind of educational setting there is a meme that goes around advocating putting “three or four armed Vets in every school. They would love to protect children.”

The meme has many, many flaws and each time I see it it pisses me off because of the wrongheaded assumptions it makes.

For starters, lets make a Ven Diagram of what skills are necessary for being a school security guard and what skills are gained through military service. It’s quite likely that the overlap is quite small between the two in reality.

While I am all for achieving maximum employment of former service personnel one shouldn’t try to force a square peg into a round hole for the sake of that achievement. Let’s not oversell what the military teaches or undersell what a school security guard actually does.

Veterans consist of those who have completed their service in any of the five military branches and moved back into civilian life. Each of the five branches is its own ecosystem employing a vast array of individuals each with different backgrounds and skill sets in order for the individual brand and the military as a whole to function. The meme treats all Veterans equally when in fact they are not Some are infantry some are intelligence, some are engineers while others are in the medical field while still others are linguist experts. Each service member’s speciality is comprised of a unique set of oft-times non-intersecting skills and while there are commonalities to much of the training it’s quite likely that the majority of even those commonalities are not common to the necessary skills to be a school security guard and deal with the wide range of situations that are unique to working with children, working in an educational environment, etc.

While it is possible that any given Veteran could be trained to become a school security guard it is highly unlikely the vast majority of veterans come pre-equipt with the skills necessary to do the job. The vast majority of former service men and women rarely performed security detail as their primary function. Those who did security might have a much different background in doing it than what’s actually required of school security on a day-to-day basis (especially since a tactical situation rarely would ever come up).

Secondly, not that Veterans couldn’t be re-trained to take on school security, but that there shouldn’t be an assumption they could just step in and do it

Proper training for any job incurs both a time and financial cost to doing so. Security is a specialized task and while re-training Vets to perform civilian security is highly possible it isn’t necessarily probable considering the complexity of the issues to actually do it.

The majority of schools are funded locally through their districts tax rolls. Districts may receive Federal funding but the current scheme isn’t designed around paying for security and it’s nearly impossible to re-appropriate any funding regardless of the original source to security. This would require new avenues of funding locally or from the Feds and both come with hitches.

Local funding would obviously be limited based on any given district’s taxable base and considering how many are already under tight budgetary contraints and have already cut into even the most basic educational programs. When you consider all the resources at a district’s disposal there are probably much more cost effective and efficient means to security ROI than spending their highly limited budgets to train a few dozen officers per district. The variance on who would be recruited out of the pool of available Vets, how many would be trained, what the training would look like would be huge because of funding differences from educational jurisdiction to educational jurisdiction not too dissimilar to what the experience is for obtaining teachers, technology, building upgrades, and so on already.

National funding comes with all kinds of other criticisms especially with the anti-Washington rhetoric that comes from a number of voters. A standardized program would be plagued with questions about proper localization training and would draw criticisms of richer jurisdictions subsidizing poorer ones and so on.

Even if you could figure out the different training needs and how to pay for them the even broader question would be IF the investment even created a real efficiency in dolling out the primary security goal to Vets.

Thirdly, throwing out all the skill-set limitations to the argument, let’s investigate another issue with the meme’s assumption, that Veterans all possess capabilities and interest to be involved in school security.

There are approximately 22.5 million Veterans in the US according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

That number includes all those individuals who are already currently employed in a civilian role and likely wouldn’t change jobs just to guard places of education as well as those voluntarily unemployed and not interested in joining the labor force such as full time caregivers (parent caring for children, child caring for elderly parent, spousal care, etc.).

Furthermore, it assumes of those remaining who are not employed they all equally possess the same physical and mental capability to perform the role of school security guards regardless of their actual service background skill set.

The VA number includes civilian retired Vets from the Great Wars, Korea, Viet Nam and other long ago tours as well as non-combat vets from those eras. Being past the age of retirement, regardless of their health, they’re probably too old to effectively serve as school security guards.

The VA number includes the physically disabled and is estimated at being about one-in-ten of veterans, with the percentage significantly higher for those with combat experience. The vast majority of injured vets probably wouldn’t be able to physically perform the role of school security guard in an effective manner.

And, the VA number includes those with psychological disabilities both diagnosed and undiagnosed such as PTSD. 19% of Iraq veterans, 12% of Afghanistan veterans and over 9% of other recently deployed combat deployed veterans report a mental health issue. Self-reported non-combat mental health issues have risen to above 5%. Remember, these are numbers of diagnosed psychological disabilities not the total number of those effected. The true number is much higher due to lack of access to proper health care, the afflicted’s belief they don’t have a problem, difficulty by health care to effectively diagnose complex PTSD issues and an overall social stigma regarding proper mental health diagnosis and treatment.

The majority of Vets psychological disabilities therefore go undiagnosed and of those that do report a problem many receive little-to-no treatment for the disease. Although rare, when something goes wrong, it could go tragically and horrifically wrong. Would you want to take the chance it could go wrong with children involved? If it did go wrong wouldn’t that be equally as bad as what’s happening now?

This beckons the forth point — that the requisites for security guards greatly vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and in many cases a health screening is not even necessary.

For those where it is required it may not be the type of comprehensive physical and mental evaluation that would identify possible issues. Even in some of the more complete psycograhpichal exams there may still be limitations in being able to identify possible PTSD victims and even if identified understanding the type of risk they might pose if they were to encounter a stressful situation in a school security role.

Getting mental health evaluations added to the requisites for those jurisdictions that don’t already included it would be difficult in-and-of itself. Establishing an effective minimum baseline on what a healthy school security guard looks like would be a Herculean task. Consider the politicization of the situation in particular because it’s going to target veterans. Then consider what backlash it might induce from the mentally disabled but still entirely functional community of people. Then consider the idea that tactical police and other first responders do undergo training and exams but how few people would equate the school security position to their work and think of it more like a cliche “mall cop.” And, then factor in the other fair labor and health privacy laws it might butt up against.

While on the surface common sense would say this should be of a paramount concern the reality is it would become a highly toxic implementation issue that would tear at all sides of the spectrum. And, if we get it wrong the consequences could be the death of the children that were supposed to be protected.

Now that we have an understanding of the Veteran population, let’s fifth consider the number of Vets actually needed to pull this stunt off.

New York City makes a great microcosm of this situation. There’s pretty easy to establish baselines to review from:

207,000 veterans reside in the five boroughs as of Dec 2014. The jobless rate in NYS according to the Department of Labor at the time was 7.6 percent, or just shy of 16,000. That number includes all possible unemployed vets without stripping out for the aforementioned limitations in employability as a school security guard.

The City services over 1.1 million public school students in over 1,700 buildings traversing both large and small facilities servicing a range of classroom sizes at all age levels from K-12 in settings from extremely urban to suburban catering a range from poor to affluent students with varying rates of existing security.

At the suggested rate of a minimum of 3 Vets per school it would take over 5,100 of them to cover just the NYC public schools and that doesn’t even take into account the size or layout of some of the buildings which would likely require additional personnel to effectively monitor. This would employ a minimum of roughly 32% of the local unemployed veterans, regardless of their status.

This doesn’t account for the additional to over 500 private elementary and secondary schools, the over 125 campuses of higher learning, or any of the pre-school buildings, special needs facilities, for-profit educational centers or day cares throughout the five boroughs which, in theory, would also need some level of protection. The number of necessary Vets required to provided the assumed minimum level of security of three stationed per “school” would quickly outstrip the available number of unemployed Vets in the city.

If you ramp up the numbers to a national level the supply versus demand imbalance becomes troublesome – again, without even taking into any of the other factors regarding the total unemployed number.

How you overcome it then opens more questions than it provides answers for – such as would it only apply to public institutions and private educators are on their own to contract security? Would unemployed vets be strongly encouraged to self-relocate to areas of need? Who knows, memes aren’t designed for this type of critical thinking.

Sixth, let’s consider the impact of security on student’s educations.

While it’s true that a student does need to be alive in order to learn, learning doesn’t have to come at the expense of maintaining one’s ability to breath and pump blood through their veins.

How does seeing armed guards at the airport or train terminal make you feel make you or someone you know feel?
Police officers with more than just a service pistol at their hips?
How about armed bank guards?
Overly cautious?
Many people have these and other related feelings around weapons even when in the hands of the “good guys.”

Now, imagine children being around them who might have those feelings? How do you think that will affect their learning and behavior in school? Even if it’s negatively effecting just one child how to you think that then plays out in the overall classroom situation for the teacher and other children?

While one must be alive in order to learn, there’s probably a better way than lowering student performance in order to keep them alive.

There’s actually existing research that says police presence in NYC schools lowered student achievements, and similar findings came out of other districts at a number of grade levels and taking into account varying types of security in place. Furthermore, armed police response in NYC and LA schools did little to curb actual school related violence and in some cases showed opposing correlation in addition to studies demonstrating lowered academic performance.

And building on that a seventh point might be to bring up the existing systemic problems in policing and the notorious flaws in existing zero-tolerance policies.

The majority of work school security ends up doing has absolutely nothing at all to do with non-school persons. It’s more times than not dealing with the students themselves. Different research and surveys have come up with different numbers but interaction with students directly or indirectly ranges between 75 and 95% of what school security typically spends their day doing. It runs the gambit from overseeing the entry and exit of students and administrators including monitoring metal detectors or performing other entry searches, to dealing with altercations between fellow students or students and teachers or even on occasion between administrators themselves, to watching over those who are awaiting the principle /dean or in detention or have in school suspension students or are otherwise needing special supervision, to being an escort for any number of reasons to a whole host of other routine interactions that are primarily non-tactical in nature.

There are plenty of examples working their way through the courts of the existing system failing to do the right thing in any number of these situations and the ALCU and other

While Vets are not necessarily subject to the same systemic problems Police are accused of having there is research to suggest they carry their own biases and are quite possible of the same vigilantly judge-jury-and-executioner episodes that have plagued recent police shootings of unarmed civilians, particularly minorities. Combine this with the systemic problems identified in how zero-tolerance policies are handled within many existing educational systems and their effects specifically on minorities.

Introducing more authority figures who may or may not have the proper training to deal with any given school security situation and possess a fire arm is just begging for an accident. If such a tragedy were to occur it would not only be difficult to deal with in-and-of itself but it further complicated the conversation regarding the recent rash of police involved shootings of unarmed civilians and tears further at the threads of society along race, class and station in life.

The combination of the two existing and established troubling factors along with the possible lack of necessary training mentioned previous could actually result in a different kind of massive school violence occurring.

Noteworthy as well as that research has shown that the existing policies in many schools regarding how to handle students, be it by administration and staff, by existing security guards, by police, etc make matters worse for student discipline outcomes, not better.

Finally, lets not miss the obvious one — that more guns doesn’t guarantee fewer murders.

We are told all the time by the anti-control pundents that laws restricting firearms won’t actually dissuade criminals from getting access to fire arms. If they want the gun they will find a way to gain it. After all, they are criminals anyhow and have no regard for the law in the first place.

Well, the same logic could be flipped and used in this situation. Simply having guns present doesn’t actually dissuade murders from trying to murder. Military bases have MPs who are armed guarding them and yet they have experienced mass murder. Police stations have experienced violence in and around them despite the fact that offices carry their guns. Banks have armed guards and are still robbed. The list goes on.

The motive of a mass murderer to kill is much greater than the expectation they might be met with force in the process. It is a similar reason as to why the threat of either life long incarceration or the death penalty does not actually dissuade people from committing crimes that would result in either. The threat of these things isn’t enough to overcome the driving factor behind the criminal’s willingness to commit the crime.

Furthermore, if the criminal is serious about committing the crime and knows they are initially at a tactical disadvantage because there might be security involved they can, and will, work around that threat. If there was a knowledge of armed security they could simply scout the security routine and work around it, purchase a bullet proof vest online from any of the many willing retailers and obtain more advanced weapons to provide a greater advantage in their attack.

This type of reaction by a potential mass murderer not only runs counter to the idyllic yet flawed idea of the threat of additional weapons being a deterrent it actually serves to counteract the presence of security itself. A determined killer will target security as part of their assault and will come prepared for that task. While it is possible a well trained security person may be able to minimize the threat, it is equally possible they are unable to do anything due to any number of factors from being in the wrong place at the wrong time to already being dead themselves to lacking the tactical knowledge to respond in an effective manner to any number of other reasons that could come up in the moment.

Furthermore, it’s also quite possible that they accidentally kill innocents themselves in the process either through friendly fire, or mistaken targeting from bad intel, or an unanticipated PTSD reaction, or any number of other reasons.

And,even throwing out the flawed assumption of deterrence, and the reality it might not create an actual tactical advantage, as well as minimizing the assumed risk of additional accidental deaths there’s still the fact that in places with more guns there’s no strong evidence that bad things occur less often. There’s enough evidence where it’s been able to be collected and analyzed showing this despite lobbies attempting to convince otherwise. The old adage of violence begets violence probably rings true here.

In summation …not to suggest there is no benefit to security, or more specifically having qualified Vets who are seeking employment provide it… but rather this is to temper the expectation that the meme actually offers any critical solution to the problem.

When you take all these points together it’s easy to see the poorly generated assumptions and inherent flaws in its suggestion but the average meme reader will never go through this process (it’s one of the many reasons I dislike the meme.)


About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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