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Spending on School Security While Shortchanging Basic Needs

I have recently spent time working in public schools as a consultant and observed that even small rural schools have invested in sophisticated school security systems. As noted in many previous posts on this issue (enter “guns in schools” in the search box to see them), the desire for parents and taxpayers to spend on security seems insatiable. And this K-12 Tech Decisions article by Robin Hattersley Gray advocating for security spending illustrates why this is true and simultaneously illustrates why I find this spending chilling. Take this paragraph:

The value of some security technologies, such as video surveillance, is fairly easy to demonstrate. Campus protection professionals regularly sing the praises of their security cameras because the images enable them to identify and apprehend suspects. If they need to justify their video surveillance expenditures to a hospital CEO, school board or university president, they just pull up the most compelling videos of suspects committing crimes on campus. If their own organization hasn’t adopted video surveillance yet, they can find examples online of security cameras capturing criminals in the act. The images practically speak for themselves.

So a school board member or school administrator in a community where people leave their car doors and doors to their homes unlocked attends a conference and views “images (of security cameras) that practically speak for themselves” and, having watched countless hours of news broadcasts of “school shooters”, come back to their school district and insist that security cameras are an absolute requirement for the well being of children.  Given the power of vivid imagery, K-12 Tech Decisions views the promotion of the need for video cameras is relatively easy. But what about door locks?

Other technologies, especially ones that prevent or mitigate crimes or safety issues, are more difficult to value. It’s very challenging to prove that a technology (or a new policy, more foot patrols or any public safety improvement for that matter) has prevented or mitigated a crisis. This poses a particular challenge for locks and access control.

Ms. Gray has the solution to this problem: link the locks to the cameras!

Another important key to the success of an organization’s access and lock equipment is its integration with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and other security technologies, such as video surveillance. For example, an access control system that senses a door is being propped open could trigger a security camera, which could then be viewed in real-time by an officer in the dispatch center.

While most of Ms. Gray’s article focusses on college campuses and hospitals, she does manage to bring public schools into the mix with a reference to Sandy Hook— which ultimately clinches any sales pitch:

For campuses that choose to install locks on doors so teachers can lockdown their classrooms in the event of a mass shooting, history has shown us that this strategy does much to mitigate the carnage resulting from these tragedies. In the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, for example, “Not a single student or staff member was killed behind a locked interior door,” Safe Havens Executive Director Mike Dorn noted to CS in 2013. “This affords additional evidence that lockdown is still one of our most effective tools to prevent death in mass casualty school shootings.”

There are few legislators, school board members, or– for that matter– school administrators or teachers who would argue against the need for better door locks and for the safety of children in schools. But sadly there are few legislators, school board members, or– for that matter– school administrators or teachers who will give full throated support for full funding of programs that provide food, clothing, and shelter for children outside of school. We need to look at the message our spending priorities are sending to children: your security depends on being monitored and sealed in a protected environment when you are in school but not on having a roof over your head, three meals, and a parent who is available for you and not working when you are home. It would be a better world if we spent more on BASIC security before we spent more on SCHOOL security.

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