Security guard Mark Geiger was patrolling campus one night about three and a half years ago when he discovered two thieves stealing sound and light equipment from Rugby Theatre. Geiger, who doesn’t leave campus between Sunday evening and Friday night, chased them until he lost them, and they got away with only some of the equipment they attempted to steal, too scared to try anything more. “Maybe they thought I was going to shoot them,” Geiger said, laughing.
The thieves wouldn’t have been too far off. At the time, Geiger had a handgun concealed on his person, as he always does, just like the rest of the security team.
Like all the other members of the school security team, Geiger has a background in law enforcement (in his case, as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff) and is licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
The only member who does not carry a concealed weapon and is not licensed to do so is security officer Sanders Jackson, who is an employee of the school and not of CJL, the company which Director of Security Jim Crawford owns and to which the school outsources its security.
Since most law enforcement officers carry either 9 millimeter or 45-caliber handguns, those are what the security carries as well, and their ammunition is standard law enforcement issue, Crawford said. Aside from that, Crawford said the team has “a variety of tools available to us that are secure,” declining to delve any further into the specifics of their preparation.
“We’ve always carried guns, from the beginning,” Crawford, who’s worked for the school since the 1980s as Harvard School for Boys’ first part-time security guard, said. “That was something that [former President] Tom Hudnut wanted. He wanted the guards up here to be armed.”
Hudnut decided to hire armed guards for a variety of reasons, he and Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said. Huybrechts said it was part of the package when the administration decided to fully cease using school employees as security. In 2008, the school completely transitioned to CJL on the recommendation of the school’s insurance carrier and with the Board of Trustees’ endorsement.
“Really, the decision was to outsource our security services to a company that was professional, much like you would decide that rather than develop your website in-house, you were going to contract it out,” Huybrechts said.
Hudnut also said the focus was on the benefits people like retired policemen and sheriffs would bring, in general, not specifically connected to arms.
“Having fully equipped, highly experienced law officers with good judgment is very preferable to the ‘rent-a-cops’ that many schools and businesses hire,” he said. “I do not think anyone should be armed at any school other than licensed law officers,” he added. “Suggestions that teachers and other school employees be armed strike me as farcical.”
“We need professionals doing that work,” Huybrechts agreed. “And whether they are armed or not is somewhat beside the point. The most important piece is they are trained security officers and all that that entails. So they have experience, they have training, they have expertise, they have knowledge that teachers and school administrators do not.”
Although Harvard-Westlake was one of the first private schools in Los Angeles to hire armed security, it’s no outlier.
CJL caters primarily to private schools, and comparable schools that also have armed guards range from Brentwood to the Center for Early Education. Hudnut thinks they followed Harvard-Westlake’s lead, as does Crawford.
“We did it years before anyone even thought about it,” Crawford said. “We are the norm now. I think everybody’s kind of going in that direction because of the recent shootings.”
Recent school shootings were also what impelled the security team to be more open about its armed status. Between about five years ago and the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, Crawford announced in the all-faculty meeting at the beginning of the school year that the guards were all armed.
“I don’t think we got any negative feedback,” he said.
“I’ve never heard a complaint,” Huybrechts said. “None. Ever.”
However, she wasn’t sure if it’s common knowledge that the security team is armed.
“I’m not sure I know what common knowledge means,” she said.
While some people, she said, have always known, and more are always finding out, the school does not advertise the details of its security plan, so families newer to the school might not know.
Even if parents and students might not necessarily know, the people who matter to the security do: possible burglars.
“We haven’t had a burglary in years up here,” Crawford said, although he acknowledged they did have thefts “here and there,” like the thieves Geiger caught in Rugby. “I think it’s partially because the word’s out that we are armed.”
After the security team began to let people know, “It gets around,” he said. “They know the guards here are going to be armed and they’re going to be less apt to want to confront a guard at night, breaking into something, if it’s a retired policeman or an off-duty policeman.”
The team regularly trains on campus during vacations and on the campus shooting range and practices responding to classrooms in the event of a shooter to avoid collateral damage.
“Practicing and practicing and practicing,” Crawford said. “We spend a lot of time and a lot of money practicing.”
But so far, no security guard has ever had reason to open fire on someone on campus. It’s a last resort, Crawford said, and not to be done unless someone’s life is in danger. That’s why Geiger didn’t use his gun during the Rugby theft a few years ago. No lives were in danger, just property.
Huybrechts compared it to the preparations in place for a lockdown situation.
Although the possibility that the school would need to provide food and supplies to everyone on campus for a week is “practically slim to none,” the school wants to be prepared for any event, so those supplies are indeed on campus.
“We want to be prepared for that slim chance,” Huybrechts said.
Nor, Geiger said, has anyone had reason to even draw a gun.
“Come on,” he said, as he watched cars drive out of school one afternoon, from his usual spot near the security kiosk. “This is Harvard-Westlake.”