More than $2.7B spent on school se­cu­rity

But lit­tle re­search done on whether it has kept kids safer

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich The Wash­ing­ton Post

OR­LANDO — The expo had fi­nally be­gun, and now hun­dreds of school ad­min­is­tra­tors streamed into a sprawl­ing, chan­de­liered ball­room where en­trepreneurs awaited, each ea­ger to ex­plain why their prod­uct, above all oth­ers, was the one worth buy­ing.

Waiters in white but­ton­downs poured glasses of chardon­nay and served

meat­balls wrapped with ba­con. In one cor­ner, guests posed with col­or­ful boas and silly hats at a photo booth as a band played Jimmy Buf­fett cov­ers to the rhythm of a steel drum. For a mo­ment, the fes­tive sum­mer scene, in a ho­tel 10 miles from Walt Dis­ney World, masked what had brought them all there.

This was the thriv­ing busi­ness of cam­pus safety, an in­dus­try fu­eled by an over­whelm­ingly Amer­i­can form of vi­o­lence: school shoot­ings.

At one booth, two gray­haired men were sell­ing a 300-pound bal­lis­tic white­board — adorned with adorable an­i­mal il­lus­tra­tions and pocked with five bul­let holes — that cost more than $2,900.

“What we want to do is just to give the kids, the teach­ers, a chance,” one of them said.

“So they can buy a few min­utes,” the other added.

Else­where at the July con­fer­ence, ven­dors ped­dled tourni­quets and pep­per-ball guns, fa­cial-recog­ni­tion soft­ware and a se­cu­rity pro­posal that would turn for­mer Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions of­fi­cers into un­der­cover teach­ers. Threaded into ev­ery pitch, just five months af­ter a Park­land mas­sacre, was the im­plica- tion that their prod­uct or ser­vice would make stu­dents safer - that, if pur­chased, it might save a life.

What few of the sales­peo­ple could of­fer, how­ever, was proof.

Al­though school se­cu­rity has grown into a $2.7 bil­lion mar­ket — an es­ti­mate that does not ac­count for the bil­lions more spent on armed cam­pus po­lice of­fi­cers — lit­tle re­search has been done on which safety mea­sures do and do not pro­tect stu­dents from gun vi­o­lence. Ear­lier this fall, The Wash­ing­ton Post sent sur­veys to ev­ery school in its database that had en­dured a shoot­ing of some kind since the 2012 killings of 20 first-graders in New­town, Con­necti­cut, which prompted a surge of se­cu­rity spend­ing by dis­tricts across the coun­try.

Of the 79 schools con­tacted, 34 pro­vided an­swers, in­clud­ing Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary. Their re­sponses to ques­tions about what they learned - some brief but many rich in de­tail - pro­vide valu­able insight from ad­min­is­tra­tors in ur­ban, sub­ur­ban and ru­ral dis­tricts who, as a group, have faced the full spec­trum of cam­pus gun vi­o­lence.

When asked what, if any­thing, could have pre­vented the shoot­ings at their schools, nearly half replied that there was noth­ing they could have done. Sev­eral, how­ever, em­pha­sized the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of their staffs de­vel­op­ing deep, trust­ing re­la­tion­ships with stu­dents.

Only one school sug­gested that any kind of safety tech­nol­ogy might have made a dif­fer­ence. Many had ro­bust se­cu­rity plans al­ready in place but still couldn’t stop the in­ci­dents.

In 2016, Utah’s Union Mid­dle School had a sur- veil­lance sys­tem, ex­ter­nal doors that could be ac­cessed only with IDs and an armed po­lice­woman, known as a re­source of­fi­cer, when a 14-year-old boy shot an­other stu­dent twice in the head dur­ing a con­fronta­tion out­side the build­ing just af­ter classes ended.

“Even if we would have had metal de­tec­tors, it would not have mat­tered,” wrote Jef­frey Haney, dis­trict spokesman. “If we would have had armed guards at the en­trance of the school, it would not have mat­tered. If we would have re­quired stu­dents to have see-through back­packs and bags, it would not have mat­tered.”

The sur­vey re­sponses are con­sis­tent with a fed­er­ally funded 2016 study by Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity that con­cluded there was “lim­ited and con­flict­ing ev­i­dence in the lit­er­a­ture on the short- and long-term ef­fec­tive­ness of school safety tech­nol­ogy.”

The schools that have ex­pe­ri­enced gun vi­o­lence con­sis­tently cited sim­ple, well- es­tab­lished safety mea­sures as most ef­fec­tive at min­i­miz­ing harm: drills that teach rapid lock­down and evac­u­a­tion strate­gies, doors that can be se­cured in sec­onds and re­source of­fi­cers, or other adults, who act quickly.

But fear has long dic­tated what schools in­vest in, and al­though cam­pus shoot­ings re­main ex­tremely rare, many su­per­in­ten­dents are un­der in­tense pres­sure from par­ents to do some­thing - any­thing - to make their kids safer. It was the na­tion’s re­newed anx­i­ety, af­ter 17 peo­ple were killed at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High in Fe­bru­ary, that had drawn so many ad­min­is­tra­tors to the Na­tional School Safety Con­fer­ence at the Flor­ida ho­tel, 200 miles north of Park­land.

Also there, hop­ing to cap­ture some piece of the new spend­ing, were 105 ven­dors, an all-time high for the expo and a 75 per­cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous year.

“This is brand new. ...

RAJAH BOSE/FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Su­per­in­ten­dent Randy Rus­sell checks cam­era feeds at Free­man High School in Rock­ford, Wash.

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