This series of blogs is excerpted from a chapter of a book that I contributed to. It is being shared here in the hopes that it may help to provide some foundation for ideas in your area. Please excuse the formality of the writing.
Maintaining safety on school grounds:
Safe schools require more than special programs and community involvement; they require safe grounds and facilities as well. Improving safety requires many root level strategies some of which may be harder for some facilities than others depending on extraneous factors such as the crime rate of the general community, gang infiltration etc. Safety audits can be performed in order to establish a base on which to build. It is recommended that these audits be performed through a collaborative effort between school security and law enforcement experts (USDE (1), 2001). This audit should include a plan to monitor routes used by students to get both to and from school. Local police can assure safety by having officers monitor these routes on a daily basis. The use of trained and qualified volunteers can help fill the gaps that are often found along commonly used walking routes that are beyond the ability of Board of Education staff and local police. A point person for each school could serve as the area coordinator but would not have to be a staff member. For supervisory needs, retired citizens and homemakers could be invaluable. The utilization of modern technologies such as cell phones, texting and possibly social networking sites could be utilized to provide instant notifications of coverage needs.
Hot spots and other concerns for safety should be available to the public though there is a potential that such knowledge could be exploited by those that these interventions seek to stop. Just as law enforcement agencies have a policy of placing their patrol officers in conspicuous places in order to deter crime, having a visible adult presence throughout the school reduces abhorrent behavior (Toppo, 2001). This presence during critical times needs to be consistent and is recommended to also include the school grounds as well (USDE (6), 2000). Areas that offer reduced visibility are often selected by students who wish to engage in rule breaking; therefore it is recommended that such areas be off limits to students. This can be assured by the installation of cameras or regular checks by security personnel (Toppo, 2001). Most schools today have installed cameras in key locations but it has been the author’s experience that in smaller or underfunded school systems there are often no dedicated personnel to monitor the camera monitors; this leaves a great deal of potential protection being lost. In a few reviews conducted by the author, the office administrative assistants were in charge of reviewing the monitors while they performed their normal tasks. While they were often busy taking care of the administrative needs of the school and had little “free” time to address the monitors, to make matters worse, the monitors were installed behind their desks so they could not view the monitors at all while they were performing any other tasks! What could have been a huge increase in safety had become little more than a very expensive backdrop in the office. A much better system would have been to install the monitors where they could be viewed while performing their normal tasks or better yet, having dedicated personnel viewing the monitors.
Here again, the community could play a key role as unpaid volunteers could be sought and trained in ways to utilize the monitors fully. These volunteers could then alert security should there be a need. Paid staff could be utilized should large gaps in the volunteer schedule be present. As is common practice in security, the timing of the security officer’s checks should not follow a consistent pattern such as every half hour, but instead be staggered so it reduces the chances of these areas being used between checks. Similarly, security rounds should not follow a pattern of the order of rooms being checked, but have room checks following a random pattern. That is to say, the security officer should not follow a set path or room check for every review. For instance, if the officer started with the auditorium area on one check they would be best served by starting with another section on the next check so as to make it harder for those who may be trying to commit negative acts from “knowing” where and when the security officer will appear next. This lack of ability to work around the officer can in and of itself serve as a deterrent to all but the most determined individual.
Access to the building and grounds should be supervised as well. This can be accomplished in part by having exit doors that are not closely monitored, being equipped with mechanisms that will allow people to egress the building only but not allow ingress. Some schools also have a policy of closing campuses during lunch periods so as to reduce the chances of having non authorized persons having access to the student body (USDE (5), 2000). Here again the use of cameras, monitors, and community volunteers could play a crucial role.
Research shows that schools with smaller populations and reduced class sizes often have lower crime rates. Therefore it is imperative for administrators to do whatever is in their means to limit the size of classes and overall student body population. Other techniques for lowering the size of groups is to stagger lunch periods and if possible the dismissal times as well. The limiting of scheduled time between classes reduces the opportunities for deviant behavior as does the modification of traffic flows.
Additional measures that have been proposed are to have “Resource Officers” armed with pistols in case of a shooting or other lethal situation (Cloud, 2001), as is the installation of metal detectors (Toppo (2), 2001). While metal detectors may reduce the amount of weaponry that is present in schools at any given point, it provides little safety from students who enter the schools armed and with the intent to shoot (Toppo (2), 2001). Many cases of school shootings illustrate the fact that these gunmen make little effort to conceal their weapons, but to begin shooting when they have a target in view. It can also create a bottleneck around the detectors which could increase the chances that school shooters will kill more students as there will be many students in a confined space (Toppo, 2001).
Some recommend the adoption of mandatory school uniforms; Three percent of public schools were using them in the 1996-1997 school year (USDE (5), 2000). It remains unclear how such a policy would reduce violence other than possibly reducing the wearing of gang colors which may allow for the identification of rival gang members. This, however, would have no effect on the common practices of gang sign language or tattoos to signify ones gang affiliation.
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).