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NYC’s Experience with Metal Detectors: A Cautionary Tale

January 14, 2016

Cecilia Reyes Atlantic article earlier this week poses this question in its title: “Do Metal Detectors in Schools Do More Harm Than Good?”. The answer to the question comes at the very end of the article from William Jusino, principal of Progress High School:

“Weapons will get into the building without metal detectors. Weapons will get into a building with metal detectors,” Jusino said. “The idea is ‘What do you do. What programs do you do. What’s the trust and values you have in your school.’”

Jusino is right: metal detectors are not failsafe any more than surveillance cameras, sophisticated door locks, and “good guys with guns” are failsafe. Ultimately “…the programs you do” and “…the trust and values you have in your school” are what matters.

Reyes does a good job of offering a history of the installation of metal detectors that 100,000 students per day go through, noting that three incidents in one week in1992 led to the decision to install $20,000,000 worth of hardware in “dangerous schools”. Those dangerous schools, unsurprisingly given NYC’s history of profiling, are in predominantly poor neighborhoods where minorities lives.

But NYC is finding that the removal of safety equipment installed over two decades ago is a challenge for two reasons. One is political: if there is any gunplay or stabbings after the equipment is removed in any school where a removal took place the safety in the schools would be challenged…. and no one in authority wants to be held accountable if an incident should occur. And there’s another battle that would loom if the district decided to remove metal detectors:

The recommendations have faced stiff opposition from the union which represents the New York City school district’s over 5,000 safety agents, who are technically part of the NYPD.

“‘Security with dignity,’” said Greg Floyd, the head of Teamsters Local 237. “I don’t know how you have the two in the same sentence.”

Floyd said the metal detectors are working as an effective deterrent and warned that the task force should be wary about cheering their removal. “In this case, they better very well hope they work, because if they don’t, then they all have problems,” he said.

Reyes mentioned the $20,000,000 price tag for the original installation of the metal detectors but failed to mention the cost of 5000 safety agents. Assuming the 5,000 agents work 7 hour days at $12/hour and get no benefits, that’s $75,600,000 per year!

So the $20,000,000 for the equipment is the tip of a huge iceberg… and therein is the cautionary tale for the countless schools acquiring technology to ensure safety. One publication I receive, K-12 Tech Decisions, has an entire section of their home web page devoted to “safety and security” selling products to ensure access control, visitor management, panic buttons, and mass notifications. Each piece of technology requires some level of personnel to go along with it if the purpose is to prevent violent incidents… and the personnel costs will invariably exceed the installation costs.

So… before a district decides to spend thousands on hardware or on security personnel they might re-read William Jusino’s thoughts on metal detectors and bear in mid the most important way to prevent violence in school is based on ‘…What do you do. What programs do you do. What’s the trust and values you have in your school”


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