Going Above and Beyond
Parents should not be forced to expect anything less than a safe and secure campus
LAST year's wave of school shootings garnered tremendous media
attention and left the nation shaken and concerned for the safety of
students and staff.
Despite the tragic events, many studies and statistics show that
campus crime has slightly declined in the past few years. Still, there
remains much that can and should be done to create a secure environment
where teachers can teach and students can learn -- without fear.
While gun-related incidents receive the bulk of attention, there are
many other dangerous and illegal activities happening on U.S. public
and private school campuses every day. According to the most recent
findings from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics:
There are an estimated 1.2 million thefts from students and
740,000 violent crimes (including 150,000 of the most serious violent
victimizations--rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault)
committed against students each year.
There are an estimated 119,000 thefts and 650,000 violent offenses committed against teachers at schools annually.
Twenty-nine percent of private and public school students
reported someone had offered, sold or given them illegal drugs on
school property within the previous 12 months.
These numbers do not begin to reflect the millions of dollars school
districts lose each year to stolen computers, audio-visual equipment,
sporting gear, books and other valuable items. The costs related to
vandalism -- broken windows, damaged playground equipment, shattered
restroom fixtures -- further cut into the money spent on educational
Fixing the Problem
School officials are constantly searching for solutions to these
problems that face the nation's 50 million students and 100,000
schools. There is no alternative to safe and secure campuses.
One school in Texas provides a good example. Elgin High School,
located outside Austin, was rated as one of the safest in the state.
Fearing complacency, administrators continue to improve security.
The school has 22 cameras installed to help provide better views of
the hallways and other common areas in the main school building. The
design of camera placement increases the likelihood activities will be
captured from multiple angles. A 20-inch color monitor, mounted just
inside the school office, reminds students and visitors that cameras
are present. An identical monitor is located in a nearby resource room
that also houses a DVR. The system only records when cameras detect
motion to save space on the DVR's hard drive. The DVR can record video
for a month or more before needing to archive any important data to
disk or other media.
The principal and two vice principals are authorized to view the
live and recorded video from their offices or home computers by
accessing the school's protected computer network.
Within weeks of installation, fights were reduced, locker theft and
one vexing problem -- students dialing 911 from the pay phone near the
office and then hanging up -- also were reduced or ended. By matching
the time of the call to the timestamp on the video, the principal
identified the caller.
Cameras are a great tool, but not the only piece of technology
schools should employ. Officials need to control who enters campuses.
Visitor management systems that require all campus visitors to register
at the office with valid identification are critical. Once registered,
visitors should be issued a temporary badge to wear. Staff members and
students -- who should have their own ID badges -- must be instructed
to challenge any adult or student on campus not wearing a badge. Also,
if there is a problem with weapons on campus, passing all students,
staff and visitors through a metal detector can help keep weapons out
of the school.
According to a recent ABC News report, most schools are not putting
a high priority on security technology. Less than one-quarter of
schools use surveillance cameras. Metal detectors are used in only 6
percent of the nation's schools. ABC reports that 70 percent lock some
-- but not all -- of their doors, while nearly all leave the main entry
Resources are available to help schools. Government grants can help
pay for some security solutions, and some technology can help pay for
itself in the form of lower insurance premiums and by reducing
out-of-pocket expenses due to theft and vandalism.
In addition to the use of technology, there are a number of other
basic plans and procedures all schools should implement. These include
conducting regular drills for staff and students to prepare for one or
more armed gunmen entering the campus, cutting back landscaping that
can serve as a hiding place for attackers, weapons or drugs, and
checking perimeter fencing and lighting. It also may include posting
signs around campus announcing the school is drug and weapons free and
that violators will be prosecuted, conducting random searches of
student lockers (subject to any applicable legal restrictions) and
searching the interior and exterior of buildings, including all
vehicles, and arranging for a security/law enforcement presence on
campus at all times when staff and students are present.
One of the most important steps administrators can take is to
request a campus security assessment from a qualified security expert
who can help design a full plan for securing the site.
There is, of course, no technology, plan or procedure that can stop
all crime. But it is possible to help protect students, staff and
property better than we currently do. Through the use of appropriate
policies and procedures, administrators can be preventive rather than
Schools need involved parents, aware students and administrators
willing to take charge and make some tough decisions. Children and our
teachers deserve nothing less.
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Security Products, pg. 27.