School security by the numbers

Earlier this week, the National Center for Education Statistics in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Statistics released the 2012 edition of their annual "Indicators of School Crime and Safety" study, which included several positive findings with regards to security improvements made over the last decade in U.S. public schools. Between the 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 school years, the study found that controlled access to buildings during school hours increased from 75 percent to 92 percent. In addition, controlled access to school grounds rose from 34 to 46 percent, while schools requiring faculty members to wear badges or picture IDs increased from 25 to 63 percent. The provisioning of telephones in most classrooms climbed from 45 to 74 percent and the use of one or more security cameras to monitor schools jumped from 19 to 61 percent.    

The vast majority of schools also seem to be taking the threat of cyber-bullying seriously as 93 percent of public schools reported that they limited access to social networking websites from school computers during the 2009-2010 school year, while 91 percent said that they prohibited the use of text messages and cell phones during the school day. Only 43 percent of schools, however, reported having one or more security staff at their facility at least once a week during the 2009-2010 school year and just 29 percent of schools reported having at least one full-time employed security staff member that was present at least once a week.

Despite some of the strides that have been made in bolstering school security measures since the late 1990s, there’s still much work to be done when it comes to preventing crime in public schools. The study found that in 2009-2010, 74 percent of schools recorded one or more violent incidents of crime and 16 percent recorded one or more serious violent incidents. Additionally, 44 percent experienced one or more thefts and 68 percent reported one or more other incidents (possession of a firearm, knife, explosive device, illegal drugs or alcohol, vandalism and inappropriate distribution, possession or use of prescription drugs). From July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, there were 31 school-associated violent deaths (25 homicides and six suicides) in the U.S.

The study also didn’t take into the account last year’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults. While Sandy Hook will undoubtedly shape the future of school security, much of the debate in the aftermath of the shooting has centered on gun control.

In January, President Barack Obama released his plan to curb gun violence nationwide. The plan, dubbed, "Now is the Time," included four primary tenants: bolster nationwide background checks for the purchase of firearms; a ban on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; making schools safer; and, increasing access to mental health services.  Under the "making schools safer" section of the plan, the White House recommended placing up to 1,000 more school resource officers and counselors by providing $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies as part of a new "Comprehensive School Safety" program. While there has been progress with regards to helping schools develop emergency management plans and providing preference to police departments looking to hire additional resource officers through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Grants program, many of the president’s initiatives have fallen flat in Congress.

Rather than uniting the country behind the goal of making our country’s schools safer, Sandy Hook has, oddly enough, become a rallying cry for the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies in Washington. Those for increased legislation on firearms believe that implementing these laws would take guns out of the wrong hands and/or limit the impact they could have in case they do. Others say easing restrictions on the carrying of guns and having more armed personnel in schools is the answer. But whether you’re for or against gun control, nearly everyone can agree that more needs to be done to protect our nation’s schoolchildren.

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