'Security Theatre' And If Seeing, Saying Something Signifies Safer Schools

Aug 22, 2018

One of the handheld metal detector wands issued by the state.
Credit Charlotte Tuggle / WBAA

After a student and her teacher were shot at Noblesville West Middle School at the end of last school year, the summer was spent on renewed conversations about school safety in Indiana.

The state offered to buy handheld metal detectors for any districts that wanted them and superintendents began taking a hard look at their protocols.

But experts say there’s still a lack of coordination and the state may not have closed many security loopholes.

Inside Lafayette School Corporation Superintendent Les Huddle’s office, 30 handheld metal detector wands are still in their boxes. He admits the district doesn’t quite know what to do with them yet.

After the Noblesville school shooting in May, the state unveiled its new program: buying one free metal detector wand for every 250 Hoosier students.

Huddle says he’s grateful for the new tool, but when it comes to using them effectively, the state didn’t offer much guidance.

It's security theatre in many cases, particularly in a school environment. It gives that perception of increased security. -- School safety expert Ken Trump

“Kids are wearing belts, they’re wearing jewelry, their watches, they’re carrying iPads, cell phones, all those things now,” Huddle says. “And it’s going to take some type of common sense planning for us to implement this in some manner.”

But even with a plan in place, those metal detector wands may not be as effective as they look, says National School Safety and Security Services President Ken Trump.

Trump says there are ways around the metal detectors. For example, if they’re used every morning, a student could stow a weapon during an after-hours activity. Or, if there’s a group of students waiting outside to be screened, they may be targeted by a shooter there.

“It’s security theatre in many cases, particularly in a school environment. It gives that perception of increased security,” Trump says. “It’s certainly a good political grab for legislators and government officials who want to show that they’re doing something, something that’s physical, tangible.”

Some superintendents also question the necessity of the new state-issued tool. West Lafayette Schools did not request any metal detector wands.

“No amount of technology is going to tell you what a person’s getting ready to do, it will only show you what a person has done,” says Superintendent Rocky Killion.

So, to focus on the preventative side of emergency preparedness, Killion says he believes the best practice is intangible.

“We work very hard to help staff identify things because human intel seems to be the most important aspect to school security – if you see something, say something.”

School safety expert Ken Trump says he’d add to that.

“See something, say something, and then do something,” Trump says. “We need to train our frontline educators, our parents, and our kids on what do you do when you see something, how do you say something, and then to those who are told something, what do you do.”

A collection of Indiana agencies - including the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Education - penned a report recommending ways to improve school safety.
Credit Indiana Department of Homeland Security / https://www.in.gov/dhs/files/2018-Indiana-School-Safety-Recommendations.pdf

A statewide school safety recommendations report released earlier this summer emphasizes increased communication. Indiana Department of Homeland Security Director Bryan Langley was one of its authors.

“We really want to make sure this report is tactical, strategic,” Langley says. “But again, it’s a living, breathing document too.”

Langley says the report’s proposed projects include a statewide school tip line and an online information hub.

“Because we’ve found that many schools aren’t aware of some of the programs that exist, and it’s not their fault,” Langley says. “It’s just in this day and age, there’s so much happening and there’s so many things you have to do as a school to be prepared.”

But what Lafayette Superintendent Les Huddle says is one of the drawbacks – state officials making possible solutions available, not telling schools how to use them – Langley cites as one of the benefits of the plan.

The report also stresses the need for more mental health resources, though Langley points out that issue affects more than just schoolchildren.

So in the first case, the state has allocated resources, but isn’t saying how to use them. In the second, even if schools had a plan, in many cases the resources aren’t there, nor is the money to afford them.

All the while, most Indiana parents are left to do little more than hope their kids are safer as this school year begins.