Matthew V. Robinson, CPO
Schools are the safest place for children according to the Uniform Crime Reports. Children have a higher percentage of being involved in a homicide or a violent crime in their own homes or on the streets compared to school (Leone, 2000). Students are 100 times more likely to be a victim of homicide while away from school (Leone, 2000). Despite these facts, school security has become a raging issue once again in the 21st century.
School security was a high profile issue in 1990's. The Columbine Shooting culminated the many school shootings. First, there was a 14-year-old student in West Paducah, Kentucky who killed three students and injured five. Second, there was another 14-year-old student in Edinboro, Kentucky who killed his science teacher at an 8th grade dance (Band, 1999). Last, two students went on killing spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 15 people before they turned their guns on themselves and committed suicide (Kennedy, 2002). Since the Columbine shooting, school shootings has been dormant.
School security has come alive once again in the 21st century after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Once again, everyone has become aware of how fragile our sense of security is (Kennedy, 2002). These attacks forced all Americans to look at their own level of security in all aspects of everyday life. Before September 11, parents knew that school violence was on a decline; however, they did not realize that the crimes that were still being committed were becoming more violent (Nilsson, 2002). Now that parents see that the crimes committed in schools are increasing in their level of violence, school security is an issue once again.
Schools should be a place where children develop intellectually and socially. Not only does school violence cause physical injury, it is causes the disruption of the school environment which interferes with others learning and may create an environment in which children fear. If children begin to fear school, they may avoid school or engage in behaviors to protect themselves (Leone, 2000). In 1999, 1.1 million students reported avoiding areas in schools for their own safety (Nilsson, 2002). In order to keep schools from becoming negative social institutions, schools, the community, and the police need to understand the problem and develop a solution.
The first step in solving the problem is to Assess the Schools' Needs. A concrete plan for all schools to follow would be ideal; unfortunately, not all schools have the same problems. Assessing the school needs should involve analyzing the school current policies and programs and decide what works and what does not. A 1997 survey by the U.S Department of Education gives a good understanding of some security measures that schools currently have in place (Beger, 2002). They are:
- 96% of public schools require guests to sign in
- 80% of public schools have a closed campus policy that forbids students to leave during lunch
- 53% of public schools control access to their school buildings
An assessment would show whether these measures are successful in preventing school violence.
First, an assessment should ideally not be conducted after a serious incident or crisis. If an assessment is conducted immediately following an incident, emotions may still be high and could cause the utilization of security measures that are not necessary. After an incident, the public will yearn for a quick fix; however, fast fixes are often drastic and may cause more harm then good. An assessment should be more than a speedy walk-through of the school. The purpose of an assessment is to understand the structural, economic, cultural, linguistic, and developmental variations that influence the functioning of the school. One will get a better sense of personal and cultural attributes of students, staff, community; prior experiences with prevention strategies; and current perceptions of order and disorder (Leone, 2000). To accomplish this, one should scheduled structured interviews with members of the school staff and community (Trump, 1999). These interviews give the assessor a better understanding of the problems that currently exist, which may not be visible to one who just walked around. After the interviews and walk through, one should analyze the school's policies and procedures, review the crime and discipline trends, examine the school physical facilities, and analyze other school and community information sources (Trump, 1999). A typically assessment can be successfully completed in one to two days on-site, with additional related off-site work.
Here is a checklist of things one should note during the assessment:
1. Security and police staffing:
-Is present staffing adequate in terms of form, organization, policies/procedures, training, etc.
-Is more or fewer personnel needed? Should they be professional staff members?
2. Security related policies and procedures:
-Are policies current with today's threats?
3. Crisis preparedness
-Are crisis guidelines in place? Are they current?
-Do guidelines involve the best personnel?
4. Education and training
-Are staff members and students educated about what to do in a crisis?
-Is training accurate? Is training conducted often?
5. Physical security
-Are improvements in the access control system necessary?
6. Personnel security
-Are appropriate measures in place to screen internal security and hiring concerns?
7. Internal and community linkages
-Is the school collaborating with the police?
After assessing the school, one should develop a relationship between the school and the community (Trump, 1999). This leads to the second step in solving the school security problem.
The second step is to Develop Parent and Community Support. "School violence is not the sole responsibility of the school system. Law enforcement, local government, civic groups, corporate entities, schools, and parents must form a partnership to combat these violent acts (Band, 1999)." To accomplish this, all of these groups should come together and sign memorandums of understandings (MOUs). These MOUs clearly illustrate the responsibilities of all groups during a crisis. This is extremely important to have in place before a situation. During a situation, those present have no time to think, but can act without thinking when they already know what they are supposed to do.
Another way to develop parent and community support is to have functions in which students, police, and citizens interact with one another. "Effective school-wide prevention plans operate best when they involve individual parents and parent organizations in meaningful ways. Parent/school collaboration enhances opportunities for schools to work successfully with troubled youth, extending prevention initiatives beyond schools and into local communities" (Leone, 2000). A basketball tournament involving students, faculty, officers, and community members will help to develop rapport (Kennedy, 2002). As students develop relationships with the police and the school's staff, they become the eyes and ears for them.
The third step is to Develop A Leadership Team. A prevention team should include all types of individuals from the school, community, and others. These individuals should develop school-wide prevention plans. The leadership team should conduct and analyze the needs assessment and formulate short- and long- term goals (Leone, 2000).
One problem that the leadership team will face is whether or not to use high-tech instruments as a solution to the problem. One common device that is brought up quite often is a metal detector. In urban neighborhoods, metal detectors are used in 39 percent of the schools (Beger, 2002). Metal detectors are hard to justify in low-crime settings and may take away from the school's atmosphere (Schneider, 2001). Metal detectors may also be difficult to justify in high crime schools because there are other ways students can bring a weapon into school. One could slip a weapon in an open window or an unattended door. Schools with prior incidents involving guns and knives are the ones that should implement the use of metal detectors. There are other hi-tech devices such as x-ray scanners that can be used in conjunction with metal detectors to further eliminate students from bringing weapons to school (Linescan, 2003).
A high-tech security measure that larger schools would benefit from is the SchoolLobby system. This system keeps a record and picture of all students and faculty in the school. The system would also allow one to print out ID's for students, faculty, and guests. The ID cards would have a barcode on them, which can be scanned for easy reference or as a tracking measure (SchoolLobby, 2003). Smaller schools on a stricter budget may opt for the TIMEbadge system. The TIMEbadge system prints badges for guests that change color when their time is up (TIMEbadge, 2003). With this, the amount of time guests are allowed to spend in the school can be controlled.
There are many additional high-tech solutions for which the leadership team must determine their effectiveness. Alarms, CCTV, and access cards are some other items they must consider. CCTV is interesting in the fact that students have a high opinion of cameras in schools. Students feel safer with cameras because someone in always watching (Schneider, 2001). Students no longer feel that fighting will be a problem. They know that security personnel will respond to the situation. Despite the fact that students like CCTV, the leadership team needs to look at all of the costs related to each product and the product's longevity. Once that is figured out, they can determine which is the best to implement.
The fourth step is to Provide Staff Development. Staff training ensures understanding, support and use of the school-wide violence prevention plan (Leone, 2000). Staff development is most critical. One may have a crisis plan in place; however, if the plan is not reviewed and practiced throughout the year, it is just writing on paper. Administrators should provide regular training to both students and faculty during the school year (Kennedy, 2002). The constant training makes students and faculty comfortable with the crisis plan. As a result of being more comfortable, they are more inclined to act in the appropriate behavior in a time of crisis.
In addition to training on what to do during a crisis, instructional programs are also good for students. Schools are good at teaching; therefore, they should teach students about things such as social competency and academic skills with the goals of preventing or remedying academic failure, raising awareness and knowledge of social influences on violent behavior, and teaching students the best response to these influences (Leone, 2000).
The fifth step is to Evaluate The Plan. One should look at the cost-benefit analysis to see what programs worked and to eliminate those that did not and those that did not produce significant results for money spent. Secondly, schools should eliminate the programs that only targeted a specific group of individuals (Leone, 2000). After evaluating the plan and the system the school currently has in place, one may want to look at several options. A school could hire more police officers to be in place at the school. Students feel safer with officers in the school because they know that they are trained to handle all situations. With more officers, it will become easier for the faculty and staff to determine what students need to be watched and what problems are not significant (Kennedy, 2002).
Another item a school could consider is fewer entrances. After school has started for the day, all individuals should have to enter the school through one entrance (Kennedy, 2002). To keep students from propping doors and allowing unwanted visitors, alarms can be installed in the doors. These alarms can be set to go off when a door is open for more than 10 seconds or immediately (Schneider, 2001). The bottom line is that there are many ways to improve security; schools just have to determine what is best for each school.
For one to determine the best security measures for a school, the evaluation process should be similar to the assessment. By keeping the two the same, one can compare the assessment to the evaluation. Having the two to compare will help in deciding which measures are the most effective in that particular school.
School security is a coming issue and each school should evaluate themselves in a thorough manner. The five steps laid out above constitute a good introduction to providing security for schools. Reviewing some of the websites listed below may help one to gather further knowledge about school security.
1. Indicators of School Crime and Safety
2. National Resource Center for Safe Schools
3. National School Safety and Security Services
4. School Security Solutions
5. Articles on Specific School Security Problems
Matthew V. Robinson, CPO
Matthew V. Robinson was born on June 15, 1982 in Danbury, CT. He has lived in the Poconos, PA most of his life. Matthew is a 2000 graduate from Pocono Mountain High School. He is currently studying Criminal Justice at York College of PA and will earn a B.S. in May 2004 with minors in Public Relations and Sociology. Matthew is currently a member of the Air Force Reserves with his unit in Wyoming, PA. Matthew recently received his certification as a CPO in April of 2003.
Band, Stephen R., and Joseph A. Harpold. (1999). School Violence: Lessons Learned. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 68(9), 9-15.
Beger, Randall R. (2002). Expansion of police power in public schools and the vanishing rights of students. Social Justice, Spring-Summer 2002, 119-131.
CEIA-Classic Security Metal Detector. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2003, from http://www.bombdetection.com/ceia_classic.shtml
Kennedy, Mike. (2002). Keys to a safe, secure school: A mix of programs, personnel and equipment help schools provide a secure environment for learning. Here are 10 steps that work. American School And University, 74(5), 24-27.
Leone, Peter E., Matthew J. Mayer, Kimber Malmgren, and Sheri M. Meisel. (2000). School Violence and Disruption: Rhetoric, Reality, and Reasonable Balance. Focus on Exceptional Children, 33(1), 1-17.
Linescan 222. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2003, from http://www.bombdetection.com/linescan_222.shtml
Nilsson, Fredrik. (2002). The Groundwork For Safety. American School and University, July 1, 2002, 1-3.
Schneider, Tod. (2001). Newer Technologies for School Security. Eric Digests, 145, 1-5.
School Lobby. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2003, from http://www.schoolsecuritysolutions.com/schoolLobby.asp
Thermal TIMEbadge. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2003, from http://www..schoolsecuritysolutions.com/tempBadge.asp
Trump, Kenneth. (1999). Scared or Prepared? Educing Risks with School Security Assessments. The High School Magazine, 6(7), 1-6.