Schools across the nation employ a wide variety of security measures to ensure the well-being of their students. In large urban neighborhoods, it is not uncommon to find metal detectors as one of these security measures. They are often used as a “last resort” to promote safety. Proponents of the usage of metal detectors state that metal detectors are utilized in districts with a history of chronic weapons offense and that they are often suggested by parents and the media after high-profile school violence incidents. They claim that their presence is necessary to uphold safety so students and parents can feel confident about their schools. However, a recent study conducted by professors of sociology and criminal justice Aaron Kupchik and Geoff Ward revealed that schools with large low-income and minority populations, but not necessarily higher crime rates, are more likely than others to require students to pass through metal detectors.
The study explored the use of multiple security measures including security cameras, metal detectors, full-time law enforcement officers, drug-sniffing dogs, and locked or monitored gates, across a nationally representative sample of 2,510 public schools. Most security measures were common in all high schools regardless of ethnicity and socio-economic status. But metal detectors specifically were more frequently used in elementary, middle and high schools with large minority populations. All of the study’s conclusions remain true after controlling for student misbehavior and crime, location in an urban setting, and perceived area crime rates. The researchers say that this helps rule out the possibility that high-minority and high-poverty schools respond reasonably to an elevated crime threat by implementing tighter security. “Instead, it appears that school officials respond to a presumed correlation between minority and low-income students and violence and weapon use,” said Ward.
The presence of metal detectors in schools has also been discovered to be minimally effective in preventing violence. In fact, they may instead hinder academic success. Students sometimes perceive metal detectors as meaning that their school is unsafe so they can become disruptive to the learning environment. Their usage in elementary and middle schools especially has negative effects on the development and success of the students because it distorts perceptions on how they view themselves and their society. “Criminalization of misbehavior begins earlier for students attending schools with concentrated poverty, potentially contributing to short and long-term disparities in educational achievement,” said Kupchik.
Metal detectors are appealing because they seem to be a quick and easy solution to school violence. However, there are a number of other preventive measures schools can take to ensure the safety of their students. For example, the Blueprints project at the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study of the Prevention of Violence identiﬁes 11 model programs that meet the criteria for effectively reducing violence in school. Also, a systematic review of universal school-based violence prevention programs by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services found these programs were associated with a median 15% reduction in aggressive behavior among students.
Metal detectors should not be considered as a last resort for ensuring security in schools. There are several alternatives that can be as or more successful without hindering academic success or patronizing students. Their use in schools is weakly and sometimes inconsistently related to crime rates within urban communities. There is sufficient evidence to prove that metal detectors are not a very effective measure in preventing violence and they should be regarded.
by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
B.A. Applied Psychology