By Zach Winn · February 16, 2017
As school and university officials receive more resources to secure their campuses, an increasing number of metal detectors are being purchased.
The trend is understandable: Metal detectors can be a great way to effectively screen the people entering a building or stadium. But there are pros and cons to using metal detectors on campus, not to mention many different types of devices and ways to use them that should be considered before making an investment.
With multiple vendors championing a range of new features, officials could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of buying metal detection systems. This walkthrough should arm decision-makers with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions throughout the purchasing, installation and operating processes.
Study Shows Metal Detectors on the Rise
Although there’s not much widely accepted data on the prevalence of metal detectors in schools, the vendors and school safety experts we spoke with believe use of the devices in the education sector is trending upward, particularly at athletic venues.
“For the same reasons we’ve seen professional sports leagues adopt metal detectors, we’re seeing a trend of schools adopting them,” says Steve Moore, the director of marketing communications for Garrett Metal Detectors. “With domestic terrorism and school shootings being all over the news, it forces school officials to think about their security plans. Some have adopted detectors in response to specific incidents, and others have gotten them to be proactive.”
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that 8.7 percent of public high schools in the country used metal detectors at least once during the 2013-2014 school year. That’s nearly four percentage points more than in 2010 when NCES found that only 5 percent of schools used metal detectors.
The rise in metal detector use, predictably, has also led to questions about the necessity of the devices and their consequences. New York City Schools, a district that teaches more than one million students each year, uses detectors at the front entrances of some high schools. Arriving students put items from their pockets into their backpacks and push their backpacks through a scanner before walking through a detector.
Last year, parent groups in the city argued the devices were discriminatory because they were mainly present in schools that enroll predominantly minority students. They also noted that a student hadn’t been shot in the district in more than 13 years.
The second largest school district in the country, the Los Angeles Unified School District, has also faced criticism for its use of random metal detector searches in its secondary schools. Teachers have argued the search program, which was launched in October of 2015, breeds distrust and an us-versus-them mentality in students.
“Some schools have a fear that detectors will tarnish their reputation. There’s a pride factor where officials believe in their students,” Garrett Metal Detectors National Security Sales Manager Joe Vazquez says. “We always say, parents should feel better that officials are doing everything they can to protect their students.”
Indeed, NYC Schools used metal detectors to confiscate more than 700 weapons in the 2013-2014 school year, including knives, guns and Tasers. It’s hard to argue that campuses aren’t safer with those weapons gone.
Planning Ensures Success
Campus administrators have a number of factors to consider when preparing for the purchase of metal detectors. One of the first things to decide is what exactly to detect.
“You have to determine what it is you’re looking for,” Moore says. “A prison might belooking for something as small as a razor blade, but a school is usually looking for pocket knives and guns and things of that nature. The users can pick the appropriate detector setting for that type of screening.”
K-12 schools typically have a fewer number of ingress points to screen or monitor than universities, which usually have multiple buildings, although some buildings may be deemed more at risk than others on a college campus.
“The number of access points [at colleges] can be cost prohibitive because, beyond the equipment, you need staff members and/ or police to complement the equipment,” Moore explains.