Keeping Schools Safe, But At What Cost?

How do you make safer a school system that during the 2009-10 academic year reported well over 800 physical assaults and nearly 130 confiscated weapons at its high schools? One way is to install state-of-the-art detection machines and surveillance cameras. At least that's the way Detroit Public Schools (DPS) has addressed the problems. Can these high-tech systems deliver the safety school officials are hoping for?

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First and Foremost

The introduction of the new security system makes DPS the first district in the United States to have this type of detection machine installed at all of its high schools. In fact, the CEO of View Systems, which manufactured the system, said the 60 units were constructed specifically for the Detroit schools and that DPS was 'leading the way' for other districts.

Rod Grimes, the chief of the DPS Police Department, applauded the detection system. 'This is how you create a safe environment,' he told Detroit Free Press in August.

DPS is certainly no stranger to security, however. Besides hundreds of security officers, DPS has its own police department comprised of 51 deputized officers who, while focusing on schools, also have arrest powers anywhere in Detroit. The schools also have surveillance cameras, a K-9 unit and a visitor ID system that performs a background check designed mainly to identify sex offenders.

DPS officers note that many problems seem to come not from students but from outsiders, such as parents or those starting trouble near the campuses. In September 2010, for instance, a shooting one block from a DPS high school injured two students.

How It Works

Students entering Detroit high schools in the 2011-12 school year will pass through the Concealed Weapons Detector, which gives viewers what could be described as Superman-like x-ray vision and which are similar to detectors used in airports around the country.

As students walk through the portal, the detector's magnetic technology picks out threatening metal objects concealed under clothing or in pockets. Once detected, images that can be saved for years appear on a monitor.

The system is designed to ignore harmless or everyday items such as keys and coins.

Other Security Measures

Installation of the nearly half-million-dollar detection system is not the only addition to security at 32 Detroit high schools.

More surveillance cameras have been added, particularly in heavy-traffic areas where students enter and exit the schools. The DPS Police Department has also added a new motorcycle patrol unit. In addition, DPS will be working more closely with the Detroit Police Department and Michigan State Police to create safety plans for school campuses that include enhanced alarms, crime prevention and citizen patrols.

Rosanna Dixon, the parent of two children attending Detroit schools, told Detroit Free Press: 'All of that is good. It's for their safety.'

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