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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
The seriousness of this kind of threat has altered the norms that exist in schools. One hopes that students themselves are now concerned about their own safety, and they take threats of shootings and rampages seriously. Joined with efforts to draw adults and youth closer together and a commitment to keeping schools safe from lethal incidents, some kind of preventive cover can reduce even further the already low probability that a school will be victimized by a lethal shooting or a rampage.
Improving Security Arrangements at Schools
An important question is whether and how mobilization to oppose violence in the schools, of the kind just described, might be aided by the installation of specialized security arrangements, including metal detectors, fences, identity badges, and the hiring of various kinds of security specialists.
It is easy to understand the opposition to such measures. They can change the look and feel of the school from a learning community to an anxiety-ridden prison. They can draw attention to the fact that the social relations have so frayed that schools have to rely on technology and rules instead of human relationships and values to provide security. Such measures can distract students, faculty, and administrators from the important work of teaching, including teaching the idea of what it means to be a responsible school citizen. All these drawbacks make the use of such measures a last resort.
Still, in some circumstances, such measures are a welcome first step in restoring a sense of security. Case authors John Hagan, Paul Hirschfield, and Carla Shedd note that after the city-wide installation of metal detectors in Chicago, no further shootings occurred in Chicago schools. We would need evidence from experimental studies to conclude that metal detectors in schools could end either lethal shootings or school rampages, and one would want to look closely at other effects of the metal detectors on school culture and performance. But it seems reasonable for the citizens of Chicago to think that their schools were made at least a bit safer through the installation of metal detectors.
The schools in the case studies that turned to hiring school police officers or resource officers believed that to be a useful program. It is not that the officers patrolled the schools and deterred shootings. Rather, they became a symbol and a rallying point for students and faculty who were concerned about security. They also served as a communication channel for students to report information about threats to school security. Discussions about whether and how to use such security measures could have a salutary effect on the creation of an effective normative system to enhance safety in the school, even if specific measures were not adopted.