I pass by local elementary schools constantly and see children interacting in what seems to be a safe environment. In light of the Connecticut tragedy where 26 people, including 20 first graders, were savagely murdered, I can only wonder: could it happen here? The answer is most definitely, especially when state leaders are not willing to agree to ban semi-automatic assault rifles, citing the second amendment. We may be the Sportsmen’s Paradise, but no educated hunter would use a Bushmaster with a high-capacity magazine to kill deer or small game. Locked in a partisan straight jacket, Bobby Jindal opposes the president’s $500 million bill, saying it’s unconstitutional. Ironically, Jindal’s proposal for gun control requires that the state report “severely mentally ill” residents to a national database to prohibit them from purchasing guns; however, there’s no solid evidence that this collection of information exists statewide and with his administration’s constant cuts to mental health care, the people who should be reported are falling off the grid. I believe in our constitutional rights, but when did the second amendment take precedence over a student’s right to life?
This quandary led me to seek out someone who was actually being proactive regarding school safety here in the city and all the arrows led straight to Eddie Compass, the head of security for the Recovery School District (RSD). This former chief of police, who suffered tremendous personal loss of family lives during Katrina while performing his job, was forced to resign after the storm. He was forthcoming with information about his current position but was a little cautious about talking to the media due to his experiences during the hurricane. “I remember vividly that CBS asked me a question at 9 am and NBC asked me the exact same question at 10 am and I gave a different answer because the situation had changed,” recalled Compass. “When the news aired at 5 pm, they showed me giving different answers, vilifying me. Nobody said the answers were at two different times and the situation was changing so quickly."
Compass still feels twinges of pain from having to resign; however he is proud of his service to the city and his undying commitment to being honest. “I did the best that I could do under the circumstances and I give a 110% to the RSD on a daily basis because I love my job,” said Compass who was also offered official positions in other cities as well as private consulting work but chose to work at the RSD and indulge his passion for helping kids. “I think God has a path for all of us and this is the one he led me to and I’m not at all sorry because this is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.”
Prior to Compass officially accepting the position with the RSD, he researched how he could improve the system in place. At that time, schools were inundated with too many officers, making the students uncomfortable. “I went in all the schools and did an assessment when no one knew who I really was at the time,” said Compass. “I broke the schools down like I do districts and I put a quick plan together to use the manpower efficiently.” His work paid off and saved millions of dollars. “My first week on the job, I was able to cut personnel by 60 percent and after the plan was in place for a year, we were able to cut the budget from $22 million to about $7 million, optimizing efficiency with a lot fewer officers. Schools were getting a bigger bang for the buck and also a decrease in incidences.” The reduction in guards actually increased students’ confidence with security and they became willing to alert them of a possible violent situation prior to it happening.
A typical day for Compass starts by greeting students as they pass through metal detectors at one of the 12 schools under his jurisdiction as well as meeting with the principals and teachers. Around 2 pm, he’ll visit another school and supervise the dismissal process, making sure kids get home safely. He’ll also review any incidences that may have happened and confirm that there’s no unwelcomed outsiders—armed or otherwise—hanging around the school grounds. Compass also believes his staff should be extremely prepared. “We train all our staff on how to deal with kids, de-escalate a situation and that arrest is always a last resort,” explained Compass. “Through months and years of greeting kids, they get to know you, become more comfortable and don’t look at you as a police officer anymore, but part of the faculty, part of the family.”
When asked how he felt about the president’s plans for school security, he said that those measures were already in place in the RSD. “We’re really proactive about individuals bringing weapons around the school,” said Compass who also does not endorse teachers being armed. “The NRA has their opinion and I respect that but looking at it through the lens of the safety and security director of schools, I believe if that a teacher has a weapon, it would be a greater opportunity for a kid to get a hold of that weapon accidentally if it’s unattended,” said Compass.
Compass was apprehensive to talk about the security measures at Sandy Hook, citing that he wasn’t actually there and it’s easy to take the “Monday-morning quarterback” stance. He also doesn’t believe that the school uniform should include a bulletproof vest. “When you look at what happened at Sandy Hook, it was a tragic incident but we’ve been very fortunate that this hasn’t happened here. We’ve also been very vigilant,” stated Compass. “Yes, it could happen anywhere but I don’t think we should overreact to the point where we get every kid a bulletproof vest…that’s not going to solve the problem.”
Despite the city having one of the highest crime rates in the country, Compass insists that if the crime rate were zero, he and his team would still operate exactly how they do now, which includes safety training in the summer for all principals and administrative personnel. “We didn’t wait for Sandy Hook…we’re in constant training mode, trying to get better as it relates to our schools being safer. That was a very unfortunate incident but it brought a lot of attention to violence in schools,” said Compass whose priority is to provide a safe, nurturing environment where academic excellence can prevail. “We always operate on the premise that a nefarious act can happen at any time. We’re always on our guard, keeping our teachers, principals, administrators and security well aware of what can happen and how to deal with it immediately and safely.”
Photographs of Mr. Compass were taken by Elizabeth Mardiks.