Post-Columbine School Security Approaches in York County, Pennsylvania

By
Jeremy P. Koller
Bryan Vagnarelli

Fifteen dead and twenty-three wounded; Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, fell prey to school violence. On April 2o, 1999, the unbelievable occurred as this tragic event took place in one of our nation's schools (School Security). The Littleton tragedy became the driving force leading to a national discussion on what to do about the issues surrounding school violence. Columbine left a lasting imprint in the public mind and served as an example of how the country had fallen silent to a problem that was relatively unnoticed until this event took place. Since 1999 there has been a focus on improving and reducing these types of problems in the learning environment. With school violence on the "front burner." a variety of approaches are being taken to combat the academic.

Physical security

Physical security encompasses all the objective measures necessary to safeguard classified documents, equipment, and material from access or compromise by any unauthorized persons. In today's world, technology serves as one of the simple solutions used to aid in the fight against the dilemma of school violence. Video surveillance, metal detectors, security lighting, and access control are among the common examples of physical security measures.

Video cameras, when used as part of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems, can be very effective in reducing and deterring criminal activity on school grounds. Placement of the cameras in areas such as entrances, exits, stairwells, main lobbies, and hallways allows school personnel to keep a closer eye on its ongoing activities. By simultaneous surveillance of these types of areas, schools are also able to reduce manpower costs. In recent years, advancements such as color video and pan and tilt zoom features have provided a more accurate coverage of specific area. This is useful in observing and discouraging criminal activity (National and O'Sullivan 88-89).

Metal detection devices used by school security are mainly employed to locate hidden objects that may be found in a person's possession. The primary purpose of metal detectors in a school scenario is to provide a way to expose individuals concealing weapons such as guns, knives, and other metallic paraphernalia that would cause harm to others or themselves. A common misconception is that metal detectors can only identify objects made of or containing metal, but, surprisingly, they can detect any conductive material. On the other hand, a standard metal detector unit used alone can not discriminate between a gun and a metal belt buckle. In these types of situations, the trained security officer will then use a battery operated, hand- held metal detection device. By using this wand close to the student or the body of a potential gun carrier, the officer can usually determine the whereabouts of the metal object by the squealing sound admitting from the wand when it comes in close proximity with metal. When trying to detect weapons in personal belongings, an X-ray machine proves more effective than a human search. In these cases, X-ray machines make hidden objects more visible and the likelihood of human error is reduced.

Proper lighting, used in and around school property, is often overlooked as a part of a physical security system. It is one of the cheaper security measures on the market and may also be one of the more effective deterrents to criminal activity. Exterior lighting is essential in creating a safe school environment. Lighting is one of the most efficient ways to prevent crimes from occurring on school grounds (Colorado). Because it raises the risk that they will be caught in the act, a well-lighted environment creates a deterrent for prospective vandals, thieves, drug dealers, or rapists (Sowell).

Lighting also plays a key role in CCTV systems because it eliminates the possibility of too much or too little light in the camera's picture, which might cause the image to not be as clear as it needs to be. Additionally, this is especially important in identifying subjects for prosecution. Patrolling security officers are used to deter crime; this measure helps to decrease the likelihood of human error that may occur by an officer who overlooks an area that has been vandalized or broken into.
Some examples of types of lighting are continuous, stand by, movable, and emergency lighting. Unlike standby lighting, which is only lit during required times, continuous lighting is normally found in a fixed position and is used during the hours of sunset to sunrise. Movable or emergency lighting is used as a supplement too and is more efficient than continuous or standby lighting (O'Sullivan 84-85).

Access Control

In today's world access control has become a major part of school security. Since the mid 90's schools have started to take an active role against unauthorized personnel. These trespassers can include a school's own suspended students, students from rival schools, irate parents, gang members, or local drug dealers. Many times these individuals try to interfere with daily school activities and procedures and may be subject to arrest. Methods of combating illegal school access include student and faculty IDs, visitor identification tags, vehicle parking permits, and proper dress for students and faculty. This would make visitors stand out from other persons on school grounds.

Greeters and hall monitors are used to help both students and visitors efficiently find where they should be or need to go. Unfortunately there are ways of circumventing greeters and hall monitors. As a result, many schools are using additional tools such as automatic locking doors, key card or access codes, and also a minimum amount of entrances and exists with alarm capabilities to further hinder intruders.

Liaison

Liaison is the interaction between the school community and the law enforcement/security community. It deals with the knowledge of each other's field of work, credibility between the two groups and establishing mutual assistance between school and law enforcement personnel. The purpose of the liaison is to prevent and deter crime. Liaison also helps the students know the law and creates a friendlier environment to report crime and delinquency. The police/school liaison, sometimes called a resource officer, not only serves as a source of higher authority but also as a friend, counselor, informant, referral agent, and educator to the public community and school students and staff. If liaison can create a more comfortable environment for the students, then crime and delinquency will decrease (Colorado University at Boulder Police Department).

Training

Security training within the school systems is another key aspect in the ongoing struggle against school violence. Standard school training programs inform the students and faculty of the latest trends, strategies, and current policies to help aid in the fight against unneeded violence. This is a serious safety matter for all individuals involved. Training is a necessity in prevention tactics and managing violent behavior; this reduces the occurrences of harm to students and faculty and improves the relations between the school and the community.

Pennsylvania School Statistics

Through a statistical report done by the Pennsylvania Department of Education the impact and prevalence of violence and weapon incidents can be seen. The total number of incidents decreased by almost 50% during the 2001-2002 school year. The only school districts that increased in the amount of school violence were York City, York Suburban, and Southern York County. West York Area High School showed the highest decline of violence in the school by an overall average of 79%. The runner up was Eastern York School district with a 57% decrease. State wide, the frequency of school violence and weapon-related incidents decreased by 8.8% (Paida A1).

York County School Statistics

A recent study the authors conducted of high schools in York County, Pennsylvania, showed a positive use of school security approaches. The first part of the study showed that 60% of the schools have cameras installed either inside or outside the premises. All fifteen high schools in the county had an access control point with locked doors and visitor ID badges in use. Due to a funding issue, only 20% of the schools had hall monitors or guards in place during school hours. Throughout the county 73% of schools used a standard voice/buzz in communication setup at the main access control point. These security measures have been installed or implemented an average of four years ago. Each school district has instituted some type of assembly or violence awareness program at least once, if not twice, a year to inform both faculty and students of the current problems. There has been 100% compliance throughout the county in developing a security plan, and these plans have been submitted to the local authorities.

When comparing the statistics from the 96-97 school year to 01-02 school year, there was a noticeable decrease of violence within the schools (State). The authors' recent study clearly shows that the dramatic decrease in school violence can be attributed to the change in the approach to school safety. The survey the authors gave to the York high schools shows that on average the schools started implementing new security measures four years ago. There are other factors that contribute to the positive results, but a lot of credit can be given to the schools for their well-planned approaches and new security features.

With the new Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB)law, schools in Pennsylvania and other states are able to include school attendance rates, incidents of school violence, drug and alcohol abuse, student suspensions and expulsions in an annual state report card (Pennsylvania Department of Education). These and other statistics such as class size in each grade and parental involvement in schools inform the public about what goes on in the school on a yearly basis. This informational tool is just a small part of a nationwide plan to establish a definition of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

Conclusion

The Post-Columbine Era clearly shows an increase in school security measures. Today, these measures are different from years past. Even with the use of psychological interventions, schools are still falling prey to terrible incidents. A recent example was the shooting that occurred at Red Lion Junior High School on April 24, 2003, when a student fatally shot a principal and then himself. Although preventive violence training and precautions have been put into place, schools have yet to determine the motives or explanations for violent behavior. Actual data on why violence is occurring is hard to identify. The Red Lion shooting was unreported since the reporting criteria is unclear (Smith, IA). We can hope to decrease the violence progressively each year by developing more effective ways to combat types of aggressive behavior such as bullying. The real battle lies in determining the source of violent behavior, intervening effectively and implementing counter measures. These may be helpful interventions, but physical security measures are still required. It may be impractical to identify a future assailant if he or she has no past or present indicator of violent behavior. If a school system would act prematurely on signs of violence without any actual violent events taking place, the administrator's conduct could lead to litigation.

There is no 100% solution to the school violence problem, but with the physical security approaches discussed and the use of appropriate interventions, the school environment will be a much safer place.

Works Cited

Colorado University at Boulder Police Department. 2003. 28 April 2003. Available <http://www.colorado.edu/police/contact/.html>.

Durantine, Peter. "Education officials release PA. School Violence Report." York Daily Record 6 June. 1998: A2.

National Institute of Justice. 2003. 23 Feb. 2003. Available <http://www.ncjrs.org/school/ch2a2.html>.

O'Sullivan, Dennis A. Protection Officer Training Manual: Physical Security Planning. 6th ed. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1998. 82-91.

Paida, Scott. "Assaults on schools staff up locally." York Daily Record 3 Apr. 2003: A1.

Pennsylvania Department of Education. 2002. 26 June 2003. Available <http://www.nclbinpafactsheets.com>.

Police Liaison. 2003. 18 Mar. 2003. Available <http://www.elkhorn.k12.wi.us/district/police/>.

School Security. 2003. 23 Feb. 2003. Available <http://www.bombdetection.com/school_security.html>.

Smith, Sharon. "False Security." York Daily Record 26 June. 2003: A1.

Sowell, David. Lighting: Deterrent to Crime. 2001. 28 Apr. 2003. Available <http://asumag.com/ar/university_lighting_deterrent_crime/>.

Bio-Sketches

Jeremy P. Koller is currently a sophomore at York College of Pennsylvania. He is majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology. He has served over seven years in the United States Air Force.
Bryan Vagnarelli is currently attending York College of Pennsylvania and is a freshman majoring in Criminal Justice. He is a student member of ASIS International.