Security Suffers Budget Nightmare
But that doesn't mean schools have to give up on keeping children safe
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Nov 01, 2010
The state of school security doesn’t seem
to appear all that promising. Administrators
have been forced to cut security staff and programs,
and search for an alternative means
to maintain levels of safety and security.
This strategy for security is disheartening because budget cuts
typically have translated into widespread layoffs, meaning school
resource officers or intervention and prevention specialists -- if not
the entire security department -- are too often eliminated.
Indianapolis Public School security officials are part of the district’s
private police force, which was hit hard when the district had
to trim nearly $27 million from its budget. The schools serve 34,000
students and had a police force of 87 officers last year. The district
cut nearly 20 percent of its security staff.
IPS Police Chief Steven Garner hopes they can recover in the
future. In the meantime, social workers, administrators, teachers
and almost everyone else have been left with the task of making the
schools safe. Garner also said
he is now more dependent upon local
It seems a perfect storm is on the horizon.
It is not always about cuts in security staff. The Center for School
Preparedness, a department within the Office of Safe and Drug-free
Schools in the Department of Education, surveyed security professionals
and other school officials. A respondent from a California
district reported that turning off the district’s outside lighting in the
evenings to reduce electricity costs actually brought about an
increase in vandalism and burglary.
One issue that is germane to school safety and security is resolving
gang activity in many urban, suburban and rural school districts.
This priority concern is critical for law enforcement and other
Gangs share a common collective identity and are frequently and
deliberately involved in illegal activities. The focus by school and
law enforcement officials should be on behavior -- misconduct or
criminal -- associated with gang behavior in schools.
Unfortunately, gangs may be part of the fabric of the school.
School and law enforcement officials must look at gang activity not
as one-on-one isolated incidents, but as situations that can escalate
so quickly that a lunchroom fight between gang members may
become a drive-by shooting after school is dismissed for the day.
School security officials must be aware that individual actions of
school policy violations are interrelated and part of a broader pattern
of gang-related misconduct and violence.
While gang violence seemed to hit a peak in the mid-1990s, and
maybe even decline in the late-1990s, there are exceptions, especially
lately as bullying and high-profile school gun security violence
are making the headline news with renewed frequency.
Schools have never been void of drug activity, but lately schools are
seeing an increase in designer drug use.
All these incidents have an immediate effect on school security.
There is no quick fix for security.
Crime and discipline data suggest that 90 percent of the security
problems come from 10 percent of the student population and
non-students. A district cannot throw money at a security problem
and hope that will fix it, thereby making the problem go away.
A school security plan must be seamless and totally integrated
into the daily routine of all school staff. It should not be viewed as
a separate measure, but rather so much part of the school experience
that security is everyone’s job. School safety and security must
be part of the education culture.
While it is unfortunate that school districts and schools are cutting
security staff, they likely have all the authority in place in their
own education code and policy manuals to make the campus safe.
Executing and applying existing rules should help school officials
consistently conform to a safer and more secure school, benefiting
the majority of students from a reduced number of distractions.
School security depends on the establishment of cooperative
relationships and communication networks with parents, law
enforcement and many other community and social networks.
Guns, children and school do not belong in the same sentence.
Schools must work closely with law enforcement to share information
about gang activity, especially when it spills over to the
school yard, or when school violence moves beyond the traditional
Gangs are a community problem and schools, being part of the
community, cannot operate without taking notice, hoping that
gang alliances will discontinue once a gang member crosses the
Tight budgets are no excuse for a failure to be proactive with
school security. Educators must be totally committed to security
programs and solutions to ensure a complete educational experience
for every student. It also would be vital to draw the student
into school safety plans through student-leader discussions. Hold
students accountable for security on campus, as much as educators
and staff are responsible.
Last, but not least, focus on what you can do to improve security,
not on what you cannot do. Rethinking what can be done
during difficult financial times should be a top priority.
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Security Today.
Ralph C. Jensen is editor-in-chief of Security Today magazine.