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 use of SROs) has had an effect in that any infraction that students are guilty of they tend to get arrested for now, where previously they might have received detentions or suspensions or those kinds of things,” the professor said. “Some of the things, in my mind, are ridiculous like not relinquishing a cell phone might be grounds for arrest, stepping out of a security screening queue could be grounds for arrest. So, it’s not necessarily violent events that students are being arrested for, but minor events as well.”

Despite the idea that a few questionable arrests of students may occur each year in schools, Trump doesn’t think that the problem is widespread. “While there certainly have been anecdotal cases of questionable arrests of students in schools, the vast majority of school police officers are not arresting kids for not having a hall pass. The vast majority of school-based officers work well with students,” he said. “Well-trained SROs and well-designed SRO programs are those in which the police roles in enforcing criminal laws is distinguished from the school administrators' role in administering disciplinary consequences for students who break school rules. When we see questionable arrests, the first thing we typically look at it is the officer's training, the quality of relationship between the officer and school administration, and the written agreements (or absence of ) between school and police administrators in which roles and responsibilities are delineated.”

Monahan added that some of the chapters in the book deal with the abuse of students by SROs and other security guards in the form of sexual harassment and using cameras for voyeuristic purposes.
Trump argues that most school guards and administrators simply do not have the time to spy on students, due to limited staffing and an abundance of responsibilities.

“Few school officers or administrators have the luxury of being able to sit down during the school day, much less to sit down and play with cameras to ‘spy on students.’ They are too busy dealing with the academic, disciplinary, supervisory, and other issues unfolding throughout each school day,” he said.

According to Monahan, schools that really want to create a safer environment need to take a step back to determine if the steps they’ve taken with security measures are actually for the greater good.

“I think what administrator or others implementing these (security) systems need to ask up front are: What are the specific problems they are intended to solve? And if security systems are intended to score political points or to show parents something is being done or to make money, then all those things are being met, but if the goal is to make students safer, then I think we need to be honest with ourselves that that is not necessarily happening,” he said.

In his experience, Trump also believes that technology alone cannot be depended on to keep students safe. “Schools must take a balanced and comprehensive approach to school safety. Any equipment is only as effective as the weakest human link behind the equipment. The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly-alert school staff and student body,” he said. “Security technology can, however, be one piece of a comprehensive program. Security technology must be viewed as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, a more comprehensive school safety program.”