The Pros and Cons of Installing Metal Detectors in Schools
School and university officials must consider both the benefits and the drawbacks of every security investment, like this common entryway solution.
Placing metal detectors in schools and colleges has always been a controversial move. As with every security decision, administrators have a lot of things to take into account before making the decision to purchase these devices.
But even more so than with other security investments, installing metal detectors needs to be a choice made with the wider community in mind. How will students, teachers and parents respond?
In some cases, district officials have faced criticism for using metal detectors. In New York City, that criticism led a city hall panel to recommend the devices be removed from many city schools.
But with every instance of weapons violence on school campuses, more officials wonder if metal detection is the best way to protect their campus. This trend has led to an increase in the percentage of schools that use the devices, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Although it’s difficult to track security systems in all schools, NCES reports 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.
“Metal detection is on the rise right now,” Joe Vazquez, the director of security sales for Garrett Metal Detectors, says. “It’s one of the hottest security technologies.”
With more school and college officials considering purchasing metal detectors, here is a rundown of some of the pros and cons of deploying this technology.
Pros of Installing Metal Detectors in Schools
The first benefit that pops into most people’s minds when they think about metal detectors in schools is the ability to find and confiscate weapons from people entering the building or campus.
There’s no doubt fewer unauthorized weapons in school buildings create a safer campus. But certain districts may benefit from weapons detection more than others.
Schools located in areas with high gun ownership or violent crime rates, for instance, may find weapons screening more useful than schools where students and visitors find it more difficult to get weapons.
For instance, many New York City schools are located in neighborhoods where the rate of gun violence is higher than the nation’s average. Below are the numbers of weapons confiscations at NYC schools over the past three academic years, according to the NYPD:
- 2016-2017: 2,120 weapons
- 2015-2016: 2,053 weapons
- 2014-2015: 1,673 weapons
Approximately half of those weapons were confiscated using metal detectors, including firearms, stun guns and knives. Other school districts and universities are unlikely to find nearly as many weapons on their campuses.
Still, if the devices help officials confiscate even one weapon from an individual intending to do harm with it, many would argue that makes the investment worth it.
The weapons confiscation metric isn’t the only way to gauge the effectiveness of a metal detector. According to Vazquez, the mere presence of the machines may be enough to prevent violence if the attacker thinks they’re likely to get caught as they enter the building.
This is particularly true for the students, staff and visitors who enter the building (and walk through the machines) each day and thus are familiar with the security systems in place.
Vazquez believes detectors could also stop attackers previously unaware of the machines.
“These machines are definitely a deterrent,” he says. “Someone who has at least some hesitancy with what they’re doing will probably reconsider if they see a checkpoint with a metal detector.”
The deterrence factor is much harder to quantify than confiscations, but it’s certainly something campus officials should consider.
Campus Community Safety Perceptions
The presence of metal detectors can certainly lead to tangible security improvements, but it can also set peoples’ minds at ease by showing them that everyone in the building has been screened.
Campus security officials’ primary goal should be ensuring a safe environment so teachers and students can focus on what matters most in school: learning. Metal detectors can help accomplish that.
And beyond weapons screening, the presence of the machines shows the community that the school is taking safety seriously and investing accordingly. Luca Cacioli, Director of Operations for CEIA USA, says school officials understand metal detectors complement a wider security strategy.
“Metal detectors are only a portion of the solution for school security practices,” she says.
If a school has metal detectors, parents may worry less about its access control and visitor management measures. Of course, the machines’ presence can be interpreted in different ways.