Ensuring a Safe School Environment
Most schools in the United States, grades K through 12, are safe places for students, teachers, staff, and administrators, but some schools present safety challenges every day. Nevertheless, whatever the school environment, safe or challenging, there’s always the chance that something can happen that stuns the community—a child bringing a gun to school, bullying, gangs, drug dealing near or on school grounds, or a bomb threat.
This month, as the school year is about to start, local law enforcement, schools, and the communities they serve are focusing on what they can do—or continue to do—to ensure the safety of our children and their schools. A combination of community policing, school resource officers, and physical security can go a long way toward guaranteeing a safe school environment.
Community policing. A proven strategy for handling school safety concerns is the practice of community policing. By working with each other to identify potential problems and prevent them from occurring, or tackling existing problems head-on, local law enforcement, school administrators and staff, parents, and other community entities can help make schools safe. As both partners and stakeholders, all involved will benefit from their actions through community policing. (Read the Community Policing Nugget discussion of partners versus stakeholders in this edition of the Community Policing Dispatch.)
School resource officers. To further ensure the safety of their schools, some administrators have brought in a school resource officer from their local law enforcement agency as an extension of community policing. Communities have long recognized that trained, sworn law enforcement officers assigned to schools make a difference. They serve in a variety of roles including law enforcement officer, law-related educator, problem solver, and community liaison. Their presence can prevent school-based crime and violence, implement educational programs to improve student and school safety, and break down barriers and encourage interaction between law enforcement and youths.
Physical security. School safety also means ensuring the physical security of the school building. We don’t want our schools to become fortresses, but installing locks on doors, using metal detectors or other methods to screen students and visitors, and providing security training to school personnel and students, can contribute toward making schools safe. During the past several years, the COPS Office has provided more than $15 million to schools through our Secure Our Schools program for just such purposes, with an additional $15 million designated for fiscal year 2008. To date, the program has helped schools in 908 jurisdictions in all 50 states.
Focusing on these three aspects of school safety will help ensure the safety of our children in school.