Former FBI agent discusses security with local districts

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 2:07 p.m.

When it comes to school security's response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., former FBI agent Bob Mitchell had a few words of caution.

“Don't be reactive and jump at the first thing you can grab off the shelf,” he said. “Take the time to assess whether what you're looking at is a good fit for your district and your school.”

Mitchell, along with Rick Murphy from the Pennsylvania State Police, gave a presentation to school security officials from Penn Hills, Gateway, Plum, Montour, New Wilmington and Ellwood City school districts Friday at Linton Middle School.

“We've been going all over the country lately, talking to districts about what they need to do,” Murphy said. The pair also performs security analysis for school districts and consults for OSA Global Inc., the company that provides security in the Penn Hills School District.

Mitchell said the biggest problem he encounters in looking at school district security is a lack of communication.

“What do you do when parents are calling, worried sick about their kids?” he asked. “If you're evacuating the school, who's in charge of special-needs students? Who's helping students who have medical problems? You need to tailor your procedures to your individual buildings.”

Mitchell also emphasized communication with the local police department.

“They have a stake in the community, they live here and their job is to keep it safe,” he said. “Take photos of your school: the roof, the outside, some sort of visual representation. Put it on a thumb drive and give it to your police chief and fire chief.”

Mitchell did not get into the specifics of the security response to the Newtown shooting, but instead focused on the shape of school security moving forward.

He said he was “100 percent against” arming school officials and staff, for the simple reason that they have not undergone training for an active shooting scenario.

“Shooting at a paper target is not the same as shooting at someone who's shooting back at you,” he said. “It's not difficult to teach someone how to shoot; it's very difficult to teach someone when to shoot, and to deal with what happens afterward.”

If a school district wanted to have armed security, Mitchell said the best place for them to be is outside the school, easily visible and serving as a deterrent before a potential criminal even enters a school building.

“You want to reduce the opportunity for crime,” Mitchell said. “You're not going to modify a person's attitude, but you can modify their behavior.”

While in the past, security measures such as metal detectors were often seen as reflecting negatively on a school district, Murphy said they're simply a fact of life now.

“Those people in (Newtown), I'm sure the last thing they ever expected at a suburban school like that was to have something like the shooting take place,” he said. “But it's the reality of today. Now, when you design your new school, you design your security specs.”

In addition to the seminar with Mitchell and Murphy, school board officials announced last week that district security staff would hold a training session at the recently closed senior high school in conjunction with members of the Allegheny County SWAT team.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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