Charlotte-Mecklenburg Prevention Efforts Appear to Be Effective at Reducing Guns on Campus
In January, 23 weapons were found in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, breaking a record for the most weapons recovered during a school year.
UPDATE JUNE 10, 2022: Steps recently taken by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) appear to be effective in curbing the number of weapons found on campuses.
Those measures include body scanners, a reporting app, doubling random safety screenings, the Alternative to Violence program, and more chances for students to talk about guns and safety, reports the Charlotte Observer. Now, 21 schools have body scanners, and students in grades six through 12 have been trained to use CMS’ “Say Something” anonymous reporting program that was launched in February. Additionally, 53 security associates have been hired.
ORIGINAL JANUARY 10, 2022 ARTICLE:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Twenty-three weapons have been found in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) so far this school year, breaking a record for the most weapons recovered during an entire school year since at least 2007, which is as far back as publicly available state data goes.
Due to an increase in violent crimes over the past few years and a surge in gun sales in the state, local and national criminologists predicted the issue would spill into schools, the Charlotte-Observer reports. So far this school year, state officials know of 123 weapons seized from N.C. school campuses. During the entire 2018-19 school year, 124 firearms were found. During the 2019-20 school year, which was shortened due to the pandemic and a subsequent switch to remote learning, 83 were discovered.
Violent crime is increasing across the country. In 2020, data from the FBI showed a 5.6% increase from 2019. However, that number is even higher in N.C., with violent crime increasing 7.5% from 2019 to 2020 and a 23% increase in homicides. A gun industry report released in early 2021 also found gun sales in N.C. jumped 60% in 2020.
“What’s underlying the uptick in firearm purchases? Clearly, the pandemic has played a role. It’s produced a lot of uncertainty,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist who teaches at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “I would also argue that what we saw during the summer of 2020 after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis may have also played a role.”
CMS accounts for nearly 20% of all guns found in N.C. school districts so far this school year but makes up less than 10% of the student population, state data shows. Although CMS and Charlotte police have released little information about the guns seized, through a public records request, the Charlotte-Observer determined the majority of the firearms had not been reported stolen. It has not been disclosed where the weapons came from but the state has determined about half of guns found on school campuses come from students’ homes while the remainder comes off the street. Students in communities with high crime rates are most likely to obtain guns from the streets, according to Rosenfeld.
In response to the concerning uptick, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said the district is requiring clear backpacks, starting with high schools. The district has also launched a working group to find ways to reduce guns in schools. In part, the group is evaluating body-scanning equipment and metal detectors with the primary focus on schools that have seen the most guns. Charles Jeter, CMS executive director of public affairs, said recommendations will soon be shared with the superintendent and the public.
N.C. officials are also concerned about the steps students are taking to make themselves feel safe. A 2019 survey conducted by the state Department of Public Safety found in about 75% of cases, students said they brought a gun to school for protection. The survey also found the two biggest reasons for bringing protection were bullying and gang retaliation.
“The conflicts that were occurring in the community are now occurring in schools,” said William Lassiter, deputy secretary for juvenile justice in the state Department of Public Safety and chair of the state’s safe school task force. “It starts with put-downs and trash talk and it continues on that continuum until kids are bringing guns to school. We need to start engaging in conversations with kids at these schools.”
Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, a county Health Department survey of more than 1,600 students found 15% of Mecklenburg County public high school students said that at some point they did not go to school because they felt unsafe on campus or on the way to school. In 2011, that number was only 8%.
CMS will soon be introducing Say Something, an app endorsed by the state and used to anonymously report bullying or threats. Students will be trained on the app this month, said Jeter. Joseph Asamoah-Boadu, a senior at Olympic High School, said students are unlikely to report threats to police officers at school due to a “disconnect between the police and the youth today.”
“Outside the school, officers seem distrustworthy. They see police officers with guns, they don’t necessarily feel safe or welcomed in our environment,” he continued. “An officer is the last person you want to talk to.”