The final report of a commission assembled to review the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., recommended May 17 that every Colorado high school and middle school have special teams to evaluate threats.
Also, commission Chairman William Erickson again criticized Jefferson County authorities, including Sheriff John Stone, for failing to act on numerous indications that the shootings might occur. “There were a number of red flags,” Erickson said.
Gov. Bill Owens, who accepted the Columbine Review Commission’s report on the massacre, agreed improvements are needed.
“With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the police response needs improvement,” Owens said. “It’s really going to be up to the schools and the law enforcement authorities in terms of how quickly they choose to address these recommendations.”
Gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had told fellow students that something would happen; they recorded videotapes outlining their plan and showing off their weaponry; and Harris posted threats on a web site that had been reported to the sheriff’s department, according to Erickson.
The commission’s report details events leading up to and following the April 20, 1999, attack in which Harris and Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before shooting themselves in the nation’s worst school shooting.
The report recommends various steps schools and law enforcement agencies should take to help prevent such incidents and improve the response to large-scale emergencies.
Erickson, a former state Supreme Court justice, said sheriff’s deputies had prepared a search warrant for Harris’s home after receiving reports of threats and bomb-making activity.
“If the search warrant that was originally proposed had been issued, this probably wouldn’t have occurred,” Erickson said. “As a result, we had one of the greatest school shooting tragedies. We’ve had copycat incidents since then.”
The search warrant was proposed about a year before the attack. Stone became sheriff later, in January 1999.
In addition to threat-assessment teams at every middle and high school, the report also calls for an increased emphasis on law-enforcement training in preparation for large-scale emergencies.
Owens formed the 14-member commission in January 2000 to learn from the attack and recommend ways to prevent future tragedies.
The commission met 15 times and heard from a wide range of speakers, including law enforcement officers, medical professionals, school officials, FBI agents, and victims’ relatives.
The report did not attempt to blame any person or agency. From the first meeting, commissioners said they wanted to prepare a report that could help prevent such attacks in the future.
Victims’ families have filed nine lawsuits claiming the sheriff’s office botched the response to the attack and didn’t follow through on reports beforehand that Harris made threats over the internet and was making pipe bombs.
What follows is a summary of the report’s recommendations. For the full report, visit http://www.state.co.us/columbine.
Recommendations of the Columbine Commission report:
- Training of law enforcement officials should emphasize that their No. 1 priority is to stop an ongoing assault.
- Law enforcement agencies must establish an incident command system in which each person’s responsibilities are understood.
- Law enforcement agencies should plan their communications systems in conjunction with other agencies they’re likely to encounter at the scene (SWAT teams, emergency rescue agencies, etc.).
- School districts should consider installing transmission repeaters in larger buildings to facilitate communication from within the building to outside receivers.
- State officials should develop a single, statewide digital trunked communications system to ensure interoperability among agencies.
- School districts should develop emergency crisis plans in consultation with local law enforcement officials and rescue agency personnel.
- Each school should assemble emergency response kits with building diagrams (including information about entrances, exits, and windows); procedures for shutting off alarms, sprinklers, and other utilities; important phone numbers; and current rosters.
- Schools should schedule crisis drills at least once per year, in coordination with local law enforcement officials and rescue agency personnel. Key members of each response team should know their roles.
Interaction with media
- Each major response agency should designate a public information officer. The first PIO arriving on the scene should serve as the official media liaison.
- Planning for the swarm of media attention should be part of any crisis planning activities.
Recognizing warning signs
- Schools should work to change the “code of silence” that prevents students from reporting peers whom they suspect of planning an attack.
- Schools should establish some sort of anonymous mechanism, like a tipline, whereby students can report their suspicions.
- Schools should adopt anti-bullying programs backed by clear codes of conduct.
- A state task force should develop and disseminate model threat assessment plans, standards, and training programs.
- Threat assessment teams shouls be established at each school, responsible for evaluating threats of violence reported by students, teachers, or other personnel.
- All agencies that possess information about threatening behavior by a juvenile (school districts, law enforecement agencies, juvenile courts, social service agencies) should share this information with each other to the extent allowed by law.
- Security devices (such as video surveillance cameras and metal detectors) are only transient solutions.