Take the Steps to Protect Students

Americans have been sickened by an Internet video showing the fatal beating of a Chicago high school honor student as he was heading home from school last month.  He was one of more than 40 Chicago Public School students that have been killed in the past year.

The highly publicized death of Derrion Albert by members of rival neighborhood factions seems to have grabbed the full attention of federal and city officials, police, school administrators and the community at large.

The city has promised to expand intervention and after-school programs.  The police will increase patrols of campuses.  School officials promised mentoring, social services and more jobs for students.  The federal government is helping to fund many of these efforts.

These are good first steps.  But many of these efforts need time to take root, grow and show results.  Meantime, our kids need immediate solutions to help keep them safe.

For six years I served as head of security for the Washington, D.C. Public Schools, where we faced many of the same problems.  I was part of a comprehensive team that made significant improvements in student safety.

Based on that experience, here are some steps I recommend for the various stakeholders in Chicago and other U.S. cities:

  • Schools should create a safe passage to and from school for each student.  Police can help with extra patrols and business and neighborhood watch groups can stand on the sidewalk as kids pass.  Gangs and bullies don’t generally operate when they know they are being watched.
  • Have all schools undergo a risk assessment that will define security strengths and weaknesses on the campus and the surrounding community.
  • Set up toll-free hotlines for students, teachers and parents to anonymously report potential safety and security problems.
  • Parents and guardians of truant students should be given 24 hours to resolve the problem or have the police called for enforcement.
  • The police should station at least one full-time school resource officer (SRO) at each elementary school.  Middle and high school campuses may need as many as six SROs.
  • Voters must demand that local, state and federal politicians make the hard budget decisions to fund student safety and security measures.

This is a problem that has been generations in the making.  Solving it will not be an easy or quick process.  Nor is it limited to Chicago.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently labeled youth violence “an American problem.”

The Obama administration will ask for $24 million in next year’s budget for community-based crime prevention programs such as Ceasefire and Project Safe Neighborhood.  This is an important step, as is $16 million in grants through the COPS’ Secure Our Schools program already announced.

We need to make certain that every child in America can get an education without fear of violence.  We must commit for the long haul, being aware that our patience will be tried.  But this is for our kids.  We can’t fail them.

Written by Patrick Fiel Sr., public safety advisor for ADT Security Services. Fiel provides security advice to schools, government agencies and private industry. He has more than 30 years of security and law enforcement experience.  Fiel served six years as executive director of security for Washington, D.C.’s 163-campus public school system.  A proactive program he designed helped reduce security incidences by up to 90 percent.

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