Metal detectors aren’t the solution, experts say

Metal detectors aren’t the solution, experts say

Last week’s deadly shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, prompted calls for the increased installation of metal detectors at schools.

Safety experts say that’s precisely the wrong response. There’s a cheaper, more effective approach, but it’s a tough sell.

The recurrent shootings at schools – at least 30 this year resulting in death or injury, according to the gun-safety organization Everytown – has sent policymakers and administrators scrambling for ways to keep students safe.

Last year, in the wake of the massacre of 17 high school students and personnel in Parkland, Florida, Congress apportioned millions of dollars as part of the STOP School Violence Act to cover the cost of safety equipment and programs.

Yet the bloodshed continues.

According to national figures compiled by the Educator’s School Safety Network, incidents of school violence – defined as instances that require a response beyond the institution’s regular capabilities – spiked by more than 185% from the 2016-17 school year to 2018-19. Over that time, the number of threats also rose by 62%.

Santa Clarita and Saugus High School students andalumni hold a vigil on Nov. 17, 2019 in Santa Clarita, Calif. to honor those impacted by the Nov. 14, 2019 shooting at Saugus High School.

“We are focusing our time and our energy and attention and our money on all the wrong things,’’ said Amanda Klinger, director of operations for the nonprofit.

“It’s difficult because, on one hand, we do have to have plans and procedures to respond to crisis events. Unfortunately, in this country, school safety has become synonymous with only response and only to that worst-case scenario, a catastrophic active-shooter event.’’

Klinger points out those kinds of episodes, which garner the most media attention, accounted for only 6% of school violence incidents in the most recent study, compared to 34% for false reports. However, incidents involving guns made up 24% of all cases, and in 10.5% of all instances shots were fired.

Metal detectors? Too easy to bypass, too expensive and too disruptive

One logical step to address the issue would be to keep guns off campuses, and a common method to attempt that is by installing metal detectors, which are often employed by some of the bigger school districts.

“There’s a number of ways they can be bypassed,’’ Dorn said. “Every school I work with that uses them mentions to me, ‘Oh, we see students do X, Y and Z to get around metal detectors.’ It’s very expensive to do it correctly, and it’s limited to specific environments.’’

Guy Russ, head of armed-intruder prevention at Church Mutual Insurance, puts it in starker terms: “The thing to realize is it could mean that the person manning the metal detector is the first one to get shot,’’ he said.

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