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May 17, 2007
Attorney General Rob McKenna joins national task force to examine legal and policy barriers to ensuring school safety

OLYMPIA…Attorney General Rob McKenna announced today he joined a coalition of state Attorneys General in a coordinated effort to examine legal issues related to school violence and safety.

Responding to recent violence on college campuses and public schools, Attorney General Rob McKenna is working with his colleagues on the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Task Force on School Safety to identify legal and policy changes to help ensure safe schools.

McKenna has also convened an internal working group within the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to thoroughly analyze Washington’s system of providing mental health information for  firearms background checks.   He has advised Gov. Chris Gregoire that the office will be providing analysis and preliminary recommendations to the governor and other clients within 30 days.

“As the chief legal officers of our states, attorneys general have a unique role in helping ensure schools are safe, secure and free from the disruptive influences of fear and violence,” said McKenna. “Our state has suffered its own tragedies both in our public schools and universities and it would serve us well to review and compare our state’s procedures against those in other states.”

The NAAG Task Force, chaired by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, will work to identify innovative programs, policies, and legislative initiatives that may serve to fill in the gaps in existing school safety protocols.

Task Force members also will examine key relationships that attorneys general must build to effectively address school violence and safety issues, including those with educators, law enforcement, and public and private educational advocacy groups.

“There are a number of critical areas this task force must address, including examining strategies for improving inter-agency communication and training to strengthen response by law enforcement to crisis situations that occur in the educational environment,” Attorney General Lynch said.  “Attorneys general are well-equipped to assist local law enforcement authorities and make recommendations on where our jurisdictions stand in terms of crisis preparedness.”

On May 3, several former attorneys general now serving in the United States Senate wrote to attorneys general asking them to assess the state of campus security around the country and make recommendations for improvements.

U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman (CT), Mark Pryor (AR), Ken Salazar (CO), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) asked attorneys general to respond to questions surrounding contingency trainings, safety practices, and emergency notification procedures, as well as actions the federal government can take to facilitate emergency planning and law enforcement response on college campuses.

“Unfortunately, this is not a new topic for attorneys general,” NAAG President Thurbert Baker said.  “In 1999, attorneys general issued a national report on youth violence and school safety following a spate of fatal school shootings in Colorado and Mississippi. Now, we’re planning to revisit those recommendations and, hopefully, identify even better measures states can adopt to create safer environments for our children.”

Recent statistics indicate that the rate of serious violent crime has fallen and that college campuses are relatively safe places on which students can live and learn. Since the early 1990s, there have been on average 20 murders on campuses each year, out of some 16 million students who attend annually, according to a recent report in U.S. News and World Report.

However, the recent tragedies at Virginia Tech—and locally at the University of Washington--underscore the need for continued work by attorneys general, law enforcement, school officials, mental health experts and other groups to ensure a learning environment that is free from violence.

“There is a clear need for an urgent reexamination of a number of issues surrounding school safety, including reviewing current legal issues related to mental health and privacy and the impact on school safety, as well as devising adequate plans to address behavioral or mental health problems exhibited by students who may pose a danger to themselves or others,” McKenna said. “We need to develop best practices and solutions to put a stop to student victimization by these senseless acts of violence.

“Washington is leading the nation in taking steps to make emergency preparedness and response a top priority,” McKenna said. “The state has already deployed the country’s first statewide, computer-based, interoperable crisis management system in more than 1,200 school campuses. We are looking for new and innovative ways to better facilitate communication and response plans between all first responder agencies. In addition, we continue to gather information from our higher education institutions regarding their preparedness.”

Experts in school security, behavioral specialists, educators, students, and other advocates will be invited to meet with the NAAG Task Force to develop a comprehensive report with recommendations to the states in September.

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Media Contacts: J. Ryan Shannon, Media Relations Manager,  (360) 753-2727

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