Richmond County is taking significant steps toward securing schools and curbing gang violence in its hallways.
With the help of a $554,000 federal grant, the school system will install nearly 1,500 surveillance cameras, high-tech recording equipment and 10 walk-through metal detectors. The U.S. Justice Department grant will also fund infrastructure upgrades, television and computer monitors and laptops for school board police officers on patrol.
"The timing is perfect," Director of Public Safety Julia Porter-Stein said.
In the application for the Community Oriented Policing Services Secure Our Schools Grant, she cited a need for the funding, pointing to increases in murders, home invasions and robberies in the community.
"Many of these incidents can be traced back to gang members, which can be traced back to the school system where many of these individuals conduct criminal activities and disrupt the school day," the application stated.
Investigator Blaise Dresser, of the Richmond County sheriff's gang task force, agreed that gang activity in schools is on the upswing and that pupils are getting more bold, openly claiming gang affiliations.
But Ms. Porter-Stein, like many higher-ups in the school system, has had little choice but to cut her budget this year because of shortfalls in revenue. "I didn't put any of these items in my budget because I knew going in there wouldn't be any money," she said.
Richmond County schools' dollar-for-dollar match to the federal grant means the system will be spending more than $1 million to protect pupils and property and better equip schools and its 36 sworn officers.
New metal detectors will replace outdated ones in high schools, and they will be installed in middle schools. The new cameras will provide greater protection because criminals won't be able to cover them up or position them away from their activities.
Cameras will also be installed at all elementary schools. The system's practice had been to have them only at middle and high schools.
Crime on campuses creates fear among pupils to the extent that many stay home, according to the Department of Public Safety.
School board employees share that fear. A survey by MGT of America released in March found that 49 percent of Richmond County's central office administrators, 40 percent of principals and assistant principals and 53 percent of teachers don't feel the schools are safe.