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Experts Say Intrusive Security at Public Schools Reproduces Social Inequality

Extreme security measures in Detroit public schools leave students feeling more like criminals than victims in need of protection.

Detroit, MI — “I don’t like it but it is what it is,” one Detroit Public School student said after going through video-monitored metal detectors and being patted down upon entering his school.

Many of the districts’ high school students — including DPS and the newly created Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) — begin the day by lining up. In some instances, the lines extend onto the sidewalks. The queue begins at least 30 minutes before the day begins and can take at least 10 minutes to pass through.

Parents with children in DPS say they don’t like the intrusive security but believe it is needed. DPS officials agree. Teachers who disagree are afraid to say anything for the sake of job security and students are afraid to complain.

“Pretty much we’re alone,” a Detroit high school student told the Michigan Citizen. “Like it’s us against them. Parents don’t say anything. The students are afraid to say anything. And the teachers call the security to deal with us.”

The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she doesn’t feel safe because of the security presence in her school.

“They don’t act like they’re keeping us safe. It’s like we should be keeping ourselves safe from them. They treat us like we’re criminals,” she said.

The district’s Police Department, a deputized police force, includes 51 police officers patrolling schools 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The district also has 47 Campus Police Officers at all 23 high schools and at other sites.

Under a contract with Securitas, the district provides security personnel in all K-8 schools, as well as additional security officers in all high schools

Retired employees said metal detectors are costly, impractical and fallible.

Valerie Glynn, before retiring, worked at Cody High School. “There are too many doors to have metal detectors at all of them,” Glynn said. “The money would be better spent teaching conflict resolution.”

Parents concerned about the safety of their children are willing to accept measures they think will keep their children safe. Even if those measures potentially violate privacy rights and other civil liberties. Parents voiced those sentiments during a meeting at Alkebu-lan Village, a community center on the city’s east side. Parents said “we need to be realistic” in comparing Detroit schools to suburban schools without metals detectors and locked doors.

“Children are bringing all kinds of weapons to school,” Chandra Davis said. “We gotta do what we gotta do.”

Christal Bonner, a parent of DPS students, said the security measures are needed.

“It’s unfortunate but necessary,” Bonner said.

Some students echo the position of their parents, which favor the intensive security measures. During an interview with students at Southeastern High, a former DPS school now a part of the EAA, the students said they were afraid and the metal detectors will stop students from bringing weapons to the schools. Asked if students in the suburbs were less violent than students in the city, they responded, “No.”

In neighboring Macomb County, parent Grace Caporuscio says the much smaller Clinton Township school district in which she has three children does not have metal detectors, although they do have surveillance cameras throughout the schools.

“We have liaison officers,” Caporuscio told the Michigan Citizen. “It’s a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.”

The liaison officers, Caporuscio explained, are police officers from the county and city, respectively, in the two high schools in Clinton Township.

The Detroit School of Arts offers a “unique, specialized, challenging, integrated academic and arts education designed to produce proficient graduates equipped to succeed in a global society,” according the school’s Web site.

It also has a jammed lobby and long lines between 7:30 and 8 a.m.

Students wait to go through a security process that some say rivals airport security. Students must open their coats, show that they are wearing the school uniform and open instrument cases and book bags. DSA recently upgraded their system with video monitors attached to the preexisting metal detectors.

The DPS administration says the upgrade — video monitoring or View-Scan Weapon Detection — is less intrusive.

“The metal detectors at DSA are part of an ongoing safety and security plan to improve the safety of our students, including multi-agency partnerships, equipment upgrades, new cameras and metal detectors, more citizen patrol groups and a new police command center to ensure 21st century policing tactics,” DPS spokesperson Jennifer Mrozowski responded in an e-mail.

“As part of that, overall implementation began in July 2011 for View-Scan Weapon Detection, an updated state of the art metal detector, which allows officers to process entries faster and is less intrusive of the person when metal is detected.”

According to Mrozowski, under Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, DPS purchased 60 units of the weapon detection upgrade at a total cost of approximately $530,000.

She added: “The district has used metal detectors for many years; this is not a new safety strategy. The district has simply purchased updated equipment as a means of constantly working to ensure our students and staff are safe and secure.”

Mrozowski also forwarded a press statement reporting a reduction in overall “serious on-campus incidents” and “serious crimes.”

According to the data compiled by the DPS Police Department during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, the district schools’ overall on-campus incidents were down 10 percent, from 1,207 to 1,087 reported incidents, with 70 of 115 schools reporting declines in activity.

Also, according to the district’s report, there were sharper reductions in serious crimes, with decreases of 15 to 61 percent. B&E’s, down 28 percent; arson, down 61 percent; felonious assaults, down 35 percent; concealed weapons, down 15 percent; and robbery, down 28 percent. There were 13 more reports of criminal sexual conduct cases, an increase of 26 percent. Mrozowski, however, did not provide exact information about the number of incidents of students found with weapons (guns, knives, etc.).

Professors Aaron Kupchik of the University of Delaware and Geoff Ward of the University of California, Irvine in a report on school security measures and student safety called “Reproducing Social Inequality through School Security: Effects of Race and Class on School Security Measures” said, “Given the powerful socializing effect of schools — whereby students are socialized into future social roles — security measures may condition students to cynically expect societal exclusion achieved through intensive surveillance, the ubiquity of the criminal justice system, and powerlessness relative to authorities who watch over and police them.”

Such students may become young adults who do not participate in mainstream political processes and are apathetic towards government policies and institutions,” the report states.

Detroit Board of Education member Elena Herrada said most parents in the district she represents, which includes DSA, support intrusive security in the schools their children attend. “Let’s face it. It’s rough out here and parents just want their children safe,” Herrada said.

Professor Kupchik says the intrusive security measures are being instituted at a time when school crime is decreasing.

“They track what we do outside of schools — imprison more people, intense punishment,” Kupchik told the Michigan Citizen. “We don’t trust schools to keep kids in line so we send in the police.”

Kupchik gave an example of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in a Colorado suburb where two students opened fire, killing 12 schoolmates and a teacher and injuring over 20 others. Columbine, Kupchik says, had metal detectors and surveillance cameras before the shooting incident.

“After the shooting, the community and administrators changed their approach. They decided to solve problems instead of police them,” he said. “The metal detectors and cameras were removed and counselors were hired.”

Kupchik said a study “Safety With Dignity” by the New York ACLU indicated students who feel the school wants them there are less likely to cause problems. Conversely, more police, cameras and metal detectors create a hostile environment where students feel unwanted.

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