School safety plan would target ‘reasonable suspicion’
(Ga.) School administrators would have new power and responsibility to report “reasonable suspicion” of violent criminal activity to law enforcement, under legislation pending before Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
The bill would also give state police authority to issue subpoenas without a court order in order to gather information about potential threats to schools. The legislation also stipulates that phone companies, internet services and other electronic media providers would be prohibited from telling their customers about the subpoenas or any records that had been shared.
State Sen. John Alpers, R-Roseville and author of SB 15 , is an active firefighter who had children in public schools said the key to the bill is prevention.
“This is a much larger issue than any one specific act,” he said at a hearing last month. “The main focus is to identify a problem before it happens by encouraging people to report suspicious behavior and encouraging a coordinated reaction.”
So far, Georgia’s public schools have avoided major tragedies surrounding school shooting incidents, but in the impact of the 2018 mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in neighboring Florida has been significant. Many districts across Georgia have voluntarily increased campus police presence while also expanding safety drills.
Alpers’ bill also mandates that schools develop threat assessments, as well as safety plans in coordination with local law enforcement agencies. Schools will be required to conduct regular “mass casualty” drills based on the safety plans.
While the bill passed out of both houses of the legislature with virtually no opposition and is expected to be signed by the GOP governor—critics questioned aspects of the proposal during legislative hearings.
Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, D-Norcross, said the “reasonable suspicion” standard was “subjective” and “broad,” according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She said she was asked during a recent community meeting how someone might report boys loitering on a street corner.
“That for some is suspicious activity,” she said. “That for many of us is just boys hanging out.”
The paper also noted concerns of Priyanka Bhatt, staff attorney for Project South, a social justice group, that school staff might over-report minority populations and that undocumented students might get inadvertently picked up as the result of state police involvement.
Reports of about suspicious activity will go directly to an information sharing and analysis center housed within the state’s Bureau of Investigation. Created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the center collects data and communication for counter terrorism and criminal investigation purposes.