GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former Secret Service agent cautions against focusing only on the physical security of buildings in the wake of school shootings. 

“The reality is a motivated offender will figure their way around physical security,” said Jason Russell of Security Education Consultants. “So I think the mistake is constantly looking at the target as opposed to looking at the offender. So we want to try to eliminate the motivation as opposed to continuing to harden the target and harden the target.” 

Russell protected U.S. presidents as a Secret Service agent and now heads a firm that’s conducted security assessments on 300 Michigan school districts. 

While Michigan State University reassesses building access following a random shooting that killed three students and injured five others, Russell is urging leaders to put as much emphasis on mental health care and identifying potential offenders before it’s too late. 

“I think the mistake of saying physical security is the only answer is probably one we’ve made one too many times,” Russell told News 8 in an interview Monday from his Grand Rapids office. “I think every time we see an event, we try to chase that event. We do in security what we think would have prevented that event. And then we chase another one, and we chase that one … and we never really get ahead because we’re constantly chasing what just happened.” 

Instead, Russell urges schools to undergo thorough security assessments before anything occurs to ensure they’re utilizing best practices in physical security, policies and procedures, training and emergency plans.

Beyond that, he encourages leaders to put more resources toward mental health. 

“I think mental health is probably the truest path to prevention,” Russell explained. “In other words, that’s probably the only way to prevent things from happening is by identifying people who are on that path to violence. They’re showing the warning signs. Maybe they’ve had some type of loss, or they’ve developed some type of grievance. They’re angry about something.”   

Russell recognizes that’s no easy task, but he hopes the increased focus on mental health in K-12 schools will benefit individuals far beyond their school years. 

The former Service Service agent also sits on the Michigan School Safety and Mental Health Commission.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is really focus on mental health at that K through 12 level so that we can prevent those people from committing an act there, but also when they become an adult,” he said.

Helping students cultivate the tools they need to work through adversity will help keep them — and others — safe far beyond their academic lives.

Russell applauded state legislators for giving schools additional financial resources for mental health programming in the wake of the Oxford school shooting.  

He’s hoping lawmakers will also pass the so-called red flag bill introduced on Feb. 16, three days after the shooting at MSU. The bill would allow police to seek court orders to temporarily remove firearms form individuals who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Russell calls it a “commonsense” gun law. 

He also supports the safe storage bill, which would codify penalties for parents who fail to keep their guns out of the hands of children.

Russell did not weigh in on the bill that would require background checks for all firearms purchases, not just handguns. 

In terms of physical security changes, Russell did say he would like to see MSU and other universities install locks on interior doors — for instance, classroom doors — something he says is not common on college campuses.  

“I think that goes without saying that the ability to secure yourself within a classroom makes sense, and that’s something that’s a fairly simple fix, and something that will probably be done,” Russell said.