Printer Friendly

The ultimate test.

TWO WORDS SAY IT ALL: CRACK and gangs. At one time, only major urban school districts had to be concerned with crack cocaine and youth gangs. Unfortunately, school districts across the country now are having to develop plans, policies, and strategies for coping with these issues and the resulting increase in fights, assaults, homicides, drive-by shootings, and general disruption of previously quiet schools.

The reason for this change in the educational climate is, quite simply, economics. The amount of cash available to the average youngster is frightening. With relatively little or no effort, a child - seven, eight, or nine years of age - can make several hundred dollars just for providing early warning to drug merchants that the police are in the area. Junior high and middle school youngsters are employed as mules, handlers, and messengers, with substantially greater rewards.

For high school students who are willing to take some risks and to whom drug suppliers are more than willing to furnish crack on consignment (meaning no money up front), an underground economy is formed in which tens of thousands of dollars change hands every week. The risks are low and the rewards are great, at least in the minds of youngsters who feel that material objects gained today are of greater value than those that come tomorrow from accepted, legal sources of income.

What most of these youngsters fail to acknowledge - or what they are convinced will only happen to the "other guy" - is the fact that their chances of growing up to become adults are greatly reduced when they involve themselves in the drug distribution network. Death or serious injury often awaits them, and in many of our schools those fates occur with frightening regularity.

School districts are faced with an enormous dilemma: Do they invite the police in and have them take up residence on campus? Do they try to ignore the problem and hope it will miss them? Do they employ personnel for the sole purpose of protecting their campuses? If they do, should it be a contract guard service? Or do school districts hire their own security personnel and make a major commitment of time and resources to establish a full-fledged department of school security or school police? These questions require careful review before a final decision is made.

When deciding the proper response to security issues, it is critical that it be a system-wide decision and not an individual school's choice. The ramifications of security issues are too important to allow one school to make the choice. Litigation has become a way of life for many public schools, which may now find themselves being sued for real or imagined wrongs.

The lack of appropriate security for a school or school function has become an all-too-often cited reason for litigation. Juries have become sympathetic to plaintiffs when schools are cast in the "badguy" role for failing to safeguard children.

Several steps should be followed when making decisions regarding security issues in a school system:

Step 1: Collect data. The systematic collection of all security incident data in the schools must occur before serious discussion can take place or any decision can be made. Frequently, school districts find themselves in a reactive position in which others outside the school system try to define the problem or problems for the district. This places educators at a tremendous disadvantage.

Instead of responding from a position of strength with timely, accurate, or factual information, school administrators find themselves reacting to allegations that may or may not be based on facts. All too often these allegations are based on someone's imagination, hearsay, rumor, or a vindictive intent to cause disruption. Information is the key to control: Educators need to control events, not be controlled by them, and the ability to do this depends on information.

Every school system should have a uniform incident reporting system whereby all designated security incidents are systematically recorded and filed by each school. An incident report may be as simple as recording information on an index card, or it may involve a printed, computer-compatible form. The important issue is that the following questions be answered:

* What happened?

* When did it happen?

* Where did it happen?

* Who was involved?

* What action was taken? If the incident report forces these questions to be answered, then schools will have the information needed to make informed decisions.

Another issue to address is the tendency for school administrators to treat criminal acts and violations of school rules as one and the same. When school administrators do this they leave themselves open to great criticism and possible prosecution for failing to report a crime to the proper law enforcement agency.

Arson, assault and battery, breaking and entering, possession of controlled and dangerous substances (drugs), possession of a weapon on school property, larceny, robbery, extortion, bomb threats, sex offenses, trespassing, and vandalism are all crimes. The police must be notified when any crime occurs at school. Even if the police do not make a report or submit the case for prosecution because of the minor nature of the offense, school administrators may pursue administrative sanctions against the violators.

Step 2: Analyze data. Once security incident data has been collected, it must be analyzed. This process is called incident profiling. The key to the process involves how incident reports are filed in the school or school district. Historically, schools have filed all student reports by the student's name. This process is the most logical and should be continued. However, when a security incident occurs, it is imperative that a copy of the incident report also be filed by the category of offense.

For example, suppose Joe Doe was the victim of assault and battery. In addition to filing a copy of the incident report in Joe Doe's student folder, administrators should place a copy in a folder called "assault and battery." Each school should establish a central file for each category of offense, and every administrator who handles student complaints should place a copy of all incident reports in the appropriate files.

After a relatively short period, school administrators can begin analyzing security data. Data that should be extracted from each report include

* the type of offense,

* the day of the week and time the event occurred, and

* the location where the offense took place.

A simple hand sorting of the incident reports will quickly indicate when the school is most vulnerable to a certain type of activity and allow administrators to determine where and when to deploy their resources. Such records can be a powerful management tool to help administrators maximize available personnel and reduce vulnerability to violent acts within a school.

Step 3: Select the right response. Armed with accurate security incident data, a school district is prepared to begin discussions about how it should best respond to real incidents or the potential threat of violence to the educational system.

Underlying all successful school security or school police programs is one common theme: the need for a defined security department within the organizational structure. Important variations may exist from one school system to another regarding the scope of the security department's responsibilities, activities, formal titles, and placement.

These variations should not be allowed to obscure the fact that school security increasingly is a field of professional specialization within education; it cannot be conducted on an ad hoc basis. In most school crisis situations, only an existing, formally defined security department can bring effective management to crisis resolution.

Five basic options are available to any school district selecting a security response:

1. Do nothing.

2. Employ local police.

3. Contract with a security personnel service.

4. Hire security professionals.

5. Use a combination of options 2, 3, and 4.

Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages. However, within these options will be a program that meets the needs of any school system.

Option 1: Do nothing. A number of school districts do not need a formally organized security program. If a school system experiences little daytime crime and has few burglaries or acts of vandalism and the local law enforcement agency is able to respond quickly and handle the few incidents that do occur, then it may have no need for a specially organized security operation.

But for schools that have an identifiable security problem requiring a security presence in the school, the remaining options are of interest.

Option 2: Employ local police. Historically, police have played a significant role in public education. They have been involved in handling truancy, juvenile crimes, and major collective disturbances as well as in providing personnel when a situation required a show of force to act as a deterrent to potential disrupters. They also have provided patrol personnel for the protection of school property at night and on weekends and holidays.

Recently, many police departments have initiated the "Officer Friendly" program, which is designed to improve the image of police with younger children, and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which brings officers into schools to teach drug prevention programs. Officers are also involved in child abuse programs and youth crime prevention programs. These are more or less traditional police roles and are recognized by educators and the community as valuable resources.

In a school system where the presence of officers is required all day, every day, the roles are considerably different. In these schools, officers are needed to patrol school grounds, parking lots, hallways, and bathrooms; check student identification; handle trespassers, class cutters, and truants; investigate criminal complaints; deal with disruptive students; and prevent disturbances at after-school activities.

They must also be available to counsel students and faculty members on security issues. These are not traditional police functions, and many officers do not view being assigned to a school on a full-time basis as true police work and may resent such an assignment.

The following are some advantages of employing local police for school security:

* Personnel are trained.

* The size of the force can be increased or decreased as needs dictate.

* Radio communications are established.

* Reporting procedures are established.

* A preemployment background investigation has been done.

* Officers have high visibility and are uniformed and armed.

* Prestige and interest accompany police.

* In most larger departments, support personnel are available.

* Police power is extended beyond school boundaries.

* Relatively little ambiguity exists about authority.

The following are some disadvantages of using police officers for school security:

* Officers are responsible to an authority other than the board of education.

* Police lack flexibility in dealing with delinquent acts.

* Personnel are armed and generally in uniform.

* A lack of commitment to the educational philosophy may be encountered.

* Turnover of personnel on school assignment can be high.

* Generally, the school has no input in the selection of personnel assigned.

* School personnel may become overly dependent on police to resolve all problems that develop.

* Student rights may be violated and libertarian controversies may result.

* Officers may be dissatisfied with school duty assignments.

* This option can be costly if schools must pay for police services.

If employing local police is selected as an option, it is strongly recommended that a formal agreement be prepared that clearly sets forth the duties and responsibilities of the police department and the school system. It is far better to have these issues identified and resolved before the crunch comes than after, when both parties tend to point accusing fingers.

Option 3: Contract with a security officer service. Often this option is the first response schools take when attempting to respond to public demands that something be done to stop the increase in school disruptions. When this occurs and the role of the security officer is not clearly defined, the opportunity for success is limited if not totally unattainable. Remember, if an officer service is going to be secured, it is generally required that a bid be put out for response. But unlike other hired services, a low bid is never a sufficient criterion for awarding a contract to a security personnel company.

Security officer companies have been relatively successful where their primary objective has been to act as a deterrent to crime. But schools present a different set of demands, and the effectiveness of a contract officer service is suspect in a school setting if the officers function as the primary security response.

The following are some advantages of using contract security officer services for school security:

* Cost is low.

* The size of the force can be increased or decreased as needs dictate.

* School assignments and deployment are at the discretion of school authorities.

* School authorities have the right to dismiss unsatisfactory personnel.

* Options exist as to how officers are dressed and whether they carry weapons.

Some disadvantages of using a contract service are as follows:

* Personnel are sometimes poorly trained and educated.

* A preemployment background investigation is not necessarily conducted.

* Officers may have a lack of commitment to and understanding of the educational philosophy.

* Turnover of personnel may be high.

* Officers may lack insight into student problems.

* The contractor may employ marginal personnel who would be unemployable elsewhere.

* The contractor may inadequately supervise personnel.

* School personnel may have difficulty supervising and controlling the officers.

* A general disrespect for "rent-a-cops" may exist among students and others.

* The degree of the school's liability for misconduct or errors by officers may be uncertain.

Option 4: Hire security professionals. As schools begin to identify new ways to respond to increasing crime and violence, this option becomes more viable. Before serious discussion takes place concerning this option, school districts must address two critical issues: availability of funds and availability of qualified personnel.

A good school security or school police program is going to cost money. How much depends on the size and scope of the security operation. If the program's primary focus will be to deal with daytime, in-school incidents, then the costs will be considerably less than a program focused on both daytime and nighttime operations.

Providing staffing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is costly, but the level of security is superior. Because competition for every educational dollar is intense, proponents of a security program must base their position on solid statistics gleaned from security incident reports. When estimating costs, treat onetime expenses such as vehicles, radios, and burglar alarm equipment as start-up costs and not recurring costs.

The second critical question that must be resolved concerns the availability of qualified, school-oriented personnel to serve in the program. Many school systems have benefited from the availability of retired police officers and college graduates who majored in police science, criminology, and related fields but do not want to work for a police department.

The advantage of retired police personnel is that schools are able to hire an individual with 20-plus years of investigative experience who knows the court system. Such individuals are invaluable when establishing a security program. One word of caution: Anyone who is hired must like working with kids. If a person has a problem dealing with youngsters with unwanted or unacceptable behavior, he or she does not belong in a school security program. The individual will be unhappy and so will the school.

The following are some advantages of hiring professional security personnel:

* The school system selects personnel.

* Personnel are responsible to the school system.

* The school system defines the role of security personnel.

* Duty assignments can be flexible.

* Personnel are committed to the educational program.

* The school system determines the mode of dress and whether or not weapons will be carried.

* The school system has central control over the entire security program.

* An incident reporting system can be specifically designed to meet the school system's needs.

* An in-house response unit is available to meet crisis requirements.

Some disadvantages of using professional security personnel are as follows:

* The program must be budgeted a year in advance.

* It is difficult to increase force size quickly.

* Dismissal of personnel must follow established procedures.

* The program can be costly.

* A training program must be implemented.

* Schools often become overly dependent on security personnel and tend to involve them in administrative issues rather than just security issues.

Option 5: Combine options 2, 3, and 4. Schools and school systems vary. No one approach is going to meet everyone's needs all the time. Flexibility is the key to effective security. At times, a school will need to call on local police for support. This is generally for a short period but may, depending on the severity of the problem, extend from several days to several weeks.

Evening activities, particularly events that attract large numbers of people and require parking control, often can be effectively handled by a contract guard service. It is relatively inexpensive and frees school security personnel to be on duty inside the building.

One final issue needs to be addressed when developing a security presence in and around schools. Regardless of which option is selected, other than doing nothing, every school system needs to establish an office of school security with a competent person as the director or chief. This first step will place the school district in a proactive posture, where incident data will be collected and analysis performed.

It is imperative for the success of the security program to have the director or chief of security report directly to the district superintendent's office. Security ultimately deals with matters of life and death. The superintendent must have immediate access to school security officials, and school security officials must have immediate access to the superintendent.

PHOTO : Reprinted from the Fall 1990 issue of School Safety, the news journal of the National School Safety Center.

Peter D. Blauvelt is director of the Department of Security Services for Prince George's County Public Schools in Upper Marlboro, MD. He is also immediate past president of the National Association of School Security Directors and author of Effective Strategies for School Security.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Special Seminar Issue; school security
Author:Blauvelt, Peter D.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Safer schools by design.
Next Article:The job of job hunting.

Related Articles
Defense Acquisition University/Defense Systems Management College introduces online international acquisition course. (Education and Training).
Convention planning highlights guide. (Experience the Magic).
Increasing awareness and understanding of students with disabilities.
Building contractors set up new construction institute.
Tire technology seminars planned.
ATLA Education: 2005-2006 CLE programs.
2006-2007 CLE Programs.
FAMU trains students for cap case work.
$9.95 for FREE! District Administration offers a growing array of professional resources.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters