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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is joining a coalition of the nation's state Attorneys General in a coordinated effort to examine legal issues related to school violence and safety.
In light of recent outbreaks of violence on college campuses and schools, Van Hollen, under the auspices of the National Association of Attorneys General, will work with Attorneys General from other states on the Task Force on School Safety to identify legal and policy barriers to ensuring students safe learning environments.
"I am looking forward to the opportunity to share information with other states' Attorneys General," Van Hollen said. "I am eager to work with my colleagues to develop new ideas and learn more about what other states are doing to combat school violence. Schools should be safe, and when there is violence, our law enforcement response to crisis situations must be coordinated, swift, and smart. I intend to share what I learn from this Task Force with Wisconsin's policymakers, schools, and law enforcement."
The 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 (AL), 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 tragedy at Virginia Tech underscores 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.
"I am pleased to accept the responsibility of chairing this task force," commented Attorney General Suthers. "The nation's Attorneys General, as a group, issued a report on school safety in 1999. Much has been learned since then, and I believe we can significantly contribute to the ongoing discussion of school and campus security."
Experts in school security, behavioral specialists, educators, students, and other advocates will be invited to meet with Attorneys General in order to develop a comprehensive report with recommendations to the states in September.
The National Association of Attorneys General is the professional membership association of the nation's 56 elected and appointed state Attorneys General.