It’s Friday night and two cross-town rivals are set to play an important football, basketball or baseball game. The competitive juices are flowing among the players, as well as among the hundreds or thousands of spectators about to fill the stadium or gymnasium.
Add drugs, alcohol and weapons and you have a recipe for a disaster. Every year, schools across the country report vandalism, theft, fighting, shootings and even death at what should be a spirited, yet safe, event.
In order to head off anticipated problems, some school administrators have moved games to daytime, neutral sites or even played them without spectators. While these are understandable moves meant to protect the safety of students, they deprive an entire community of seeing new and traditional rivalries played with a sense of good sportsmanship.
Rather than take extreme actions, it is better for administrators to use this summer to put a security plan in place to make it more difficult for the few troublemakers to ruin the enjoyment of the vast majority.
A plan should include sufficient security/law enforcement personnel to handle events inside the stadium or gymnasium. Adding more security personnel at the games may be difficult from a budgetary point of view, so consider asking booster clubs, other parents and merchants to participate in fundraising activities to get the extra money needed.
It also wise to work closely with local law enforcement departments and request extra officers be made available not only for the game itself, but to patrol parking lots and nearby streets before, during and after the event.
One of the easiest steps is to use fencing to limit the number of entries to a stadium and open only one door for entry into a gymnasium. This will make it easier for security personnel to view incoming spectators and immediately remove those that are obviously under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Many schools use metal detectors to check for weapons as spectators enter the venue. Hand-held wands at entries or walk-through devices operated by trained personnel can help. But by themselves they are not enough.
To avoid being caught by the metal detectors, some students and non-students have learned to hide knives and guns in bushes near the event. The weapons can be quickly retrieved after the game. Another good policy is one that states that once a spectator leaves the game, he or she cannot re-enter.
Extra lighting can discourage people from using these areas as hiding places. Also, it is a good idea to have security personnel be highly visible in these areas before the game and to sweep these areas during the competition looking for weapons that might have been placed there hours or days earlier.
Indoor and outdoor security cameras can also provide extra pairs of eyes for the security staff. Cameras should focus on the parking lots, the stadium and gymnasium entries and perimeters and the ticket office and snack bar. Make sure the video is being monitored by school personnel, law enforcement or a professional monitoring company – to alert other security personnel or law enforcement of an immediate problem – and recorded to be able to help identify suspects and, if need be, prosecute offenders after an event.
There are a number of grants from the federal Department of Education and the Department of Homeland Security that can assist school districts in obtaining funding for security technology
During my six years as executive director of security for Washington, D.C. Public Schools, I met with principals, administrators, staff, law enforcement, parents and students to plan a comprehensive approach to campus security. One effective part of that plan was an anonymous hotline for parents and students to phone in tips about who was carrying drugs and/or weapons and when and where they planned to use them. That not only helps at athletic events, but throughout the school day.
With some careful planning and use of security technology tools, it should be possible for high school sports to continue to be something that unites a community, rather than causing grief through property damage, injuries or loss of life.