Report: More school security doesn’t lead to an increase in safety

New book from Vanderbilt University professor examines the unintended consequences of surveillance, security in schools


The efforts of school districts across the country to ramp up security measures in an attempt to make schools safer learning environments could be an exercise in futility, according to a new book from Vanderbilt University Professor Torin Monahan.

In the book, “Schools under Surveillance: Cultures of Control in Public Education,” Monahan argues that security cameras, school resource officers and zero-tolerance policies for drugs and violence have little impact on deterring crime and may actually make students feel less safe.

The book, which pulls together research from various authors, covers some of the biggest school districts in the country including New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Phoenix. Monahan said he got the idea for a book on school security while doing work for the unified school district in Los Angeles.

The fundamental goal of the book, according to Monahan, was to look at the various impacts of surveillance and other security measures on schools, students and teachers. Generally speaking, Monahan says that schools are one of the safest places for children to be, citing statistics which show that an average of 17 kids die from murder or suicide in schools in year, compared to an average of 1,500 children who die each year as a result of abuse or neglect.

That being said, when you look at the data of violence at schools that have CCTV cameras and resource officers, the fact is that those facilities are not safer than ones without, according to Monahan.

“I thought it was particularly interesting that we are investing all of these resources under the assumption that they are going to have some demonstrable effect or benefit,” he said.

Kenneth Trump, president of consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services and former member of the Division of Safety and Security for Cleveland Public Schools, refutes the professor’s argument.

“Suggesting that reasonable, balanced security measures does not deter crime or contribute to safer environment may make good Ivory Tower academic theory, but it lacks common sense and any understanding of the safety challenges facing schools and other societal organizations today,” he said. “Security measures are present throughout our society: In shopping centers, recreational facilities, entertainment complexes, grocery stories, corporate offices and many other places adults and kids visit on a daily basis. Persons responsible for safety in these venues must take reasonable risk reduction measures. Why should we hold our schools, which house our most valuable resources (our children), to a lower standard?”

Monahan said that researchers also found varying degrees of security measures being implemented across socioeconomic lines, with more invasive forms of security being performed in low income or urban schools and not in suburban or rural settings.

“By and large, in urban schools, we see much more invasive forms of screening,” Monahan said. Pat down searches, metal detectors, drug dogs, urine tests, those kinds of things we may consider to be more invasive because their physically manifesting. In suburban and rural schools, you see a lot more discreet surveillance. You have fewer metal detectors, you have surveillance, but it’s from a distance, it doesn’t require that you do anything.”

One security measure that has become common among many schools, however, is the use of school resource officers. According to Monahan, nearly 68 percent of all middle and high schools now utilize SROs, which he indicated has opened the door to a whole new set of security issues.

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