Crimes against students have increased in the last decade — in schools during the school day, as well as to and from school. Federal statistics show that the increase is occurring across all populations — urban, suburban and rural — regardless of household income or ethnicity.
The threat of crimes can cause apprehension among students and put stress on the learning process. Establishing a secure environment for children to learn requires a continuing effort from all those involved in schools. Educators, law enforcement and community members need an overall plan for school security that emphasizes four key steps: deterrence, detection, delay and recovery.
Creating a climate
The first step in crime prevention is to deter the possibility of crime — or at least make it difficult for someone to feel comfortable committing a crime. This often involves modifying a school's culture or values. Understanding that risks exist can lead schools to develop a philosophy about school security. This brings people's concerns into the open and gives them a forum to make known any possible security breaches.
In most districts, the security of all school facilities is the ultimate responsibility of the superintendent. A superintendent might delegate that responsibility, but should stay involved. A district also should form a security committee that meets regularly to discuss concerns about school security. The committee should include representatives from every facility. In addition, individual buildings may have their own security committees.
A security committee should develop a security plan that keeps track of existing procedures and systems as well as ways to improve the security. Don't put the plan on a shelf after it is written — it should be a living document that is reviewed and revised continually.
Criminals are persistent and can find new ways to commit crimes. School security systems need to be able to detect when something potentially troublesome has taken place.
For instance, requiring all known persons to display an ID badge will make someone without a badge seem out of place. This could prevent a non-custodial parent from taking a child without permission.
More sophisticated methods may include electronic intrusion detection, access control or CCTV surveillance. The risk associated with unauthorized access will determine the required level of access control. Such a system can involve a simple number code, a card reader or a biometrics reader.
Another potential problem is people entering schools with weapons or drugs stored in backpacks or hidden in their clothes. To prevent this, many schools have prohibited students from using backpacks. Some schools have installed X-ray machines and metal detectors to find contraband.
Sirens and alarm systems can draw unwanted attention to a criminal, but by themselves may not be enough to stop a crime.
Electronic systems cannot read body language or interpret the unusual behaviors of a person trying to commit a crime. Therefore, many schools have school resource officers (SROs) on their campuses to deter crime.
Delaying a criminal may give law enforcement the additional time needed to catch someone in the act and keep the school and its students out of harm's way. A perimeter fence or vandal-resistant glass on a building can be the difference between catching a criminal or not. Multiple barriers will increase the delay. Envision a box in a box in a box; once the first box (a fence) is breached, the second box (building perimeter) needs to be entered. The third layer might be the locked door of the administration office.
If a crime does occur, a school must be able to recover and continue its mission: teaching children. If a school is the target of arson, the displaced students need to have a place to report and learn until their classroom is repaired. After a theft, a school needs to replace the equipment that has been stolen.