In the wake of recent weapon-related incidents at Baltimore County schools, new superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance has encouraged better communication with the community and increased community involvement. Experts say the approach, at least in the early stages, is on point.
Kenneth Trump is president of National School Safety and Security Services and has played a role as "expert" in several federal school safety reviews. He has been following the news of gun and weapon-related incidents in the Baltimore area and urges parents and school administrators to develop an understanding that true safety is proactive and begins with what cannot be seen -- increased communication, planning and relationship with the community.
"It's a normal reaction for parents to want some sort of visible tangible evidence of increased security, and there is an enormous amount of pressure on school leaders to provide that perception of enhanced security," Trump said. "But, there is a huge difference between a perception of better security and actually having better security."
Baltimore County officials say there will be an increased presence of officers at schools, and officers and administrators will now use metal-detecting wands on an as needed basis.
Trump argues that the effectiveness of such hand wands and even stationary metal detectors is in the detail. He says though they offer something parents and students can see, they hold no guarantee.
"The devil is in the detail of implementation," Trump says. "…The first and best line of school defense is a well-trained staff and student body… establishing relationships with adults."
Trump says while many may be critical of the hand wand approach, a more severe approach such as stationary metal detectors is often impractical.
"How are you going to get a couple thousand kids metal-detected and into their classes on time? It could potentially take a couple of hours," he said.
Trump also makes the case that such stationary metal detectors only offer security when they are manned. Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice support his argument. In 2009, about 9.1 percent of high school students in the state of Maryland reported being threatened or injured by a weapon while at school. The percentage is less than Arkansas' 11.9 percent of students who reported being threatened or injured with a weapon at school – Arkansas being a state where stationary metal detectors are in use in many if not most high schools.
"People don't think that far. People want that instant guarantee, and there is no such guarantee. You can't turn a school into a TSA-type sterile environment," Trump says.
If you did, Trump said, the act would be labor and cost intensive.
"You have to have a balanced and comprehensive approach – hardware and heartware. You have to have everything from prevention to preparedness. There is no quick fix. There is no one-shot cure for school safety. You have to have that balanced and comprehensive approach."
How does Baltimore County Public Schools move forward? Trump says administrators, parents and students in the district will need to keep recent incidents in mind. He says schools are often safest after violent incidents due to a heightened attention to safety.
"Six years down the road, will they still be thinking about it? The answer tends to be ‘no,'" he said.
"From the business end of working with schools, we can clearly see where preventative proactive efforts have gone down, lawsuits have gone up."