School security: High-tech, cops, or Code Red?

Despite gains in surveillance technology, the key to security, police and families says, is communication, human intelligence and a physical presence.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

School violence is increasing in many California schools and that has many parents and educators wondering if pumping money into more high-tech surveillance is a better alternative than old-fashioned campus security, reports the Mercury News.

From installing safety cameras to "Code Red" emergency simulation training for school staffers, schools are trying to figure out the best way to keep their campuses safe.

"We need to have more police," said Carina Diaz, mother of a first-grader at Green Oaks Academy in the Ravenswood City School District, where anxious parents feel powerless to stem a recent wave of shootings and gang violence in the broader community.

The best answer, campus security experts say, is to build strong relationships among school staff, students, parents, community leaders and law enforcement.

"School safety requires a balance between hardware and heartware," said Kenneth Trump of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm. "The technology is only as good as the human intelligence. The best defense is a highly alert staff and adults who have good relationships with kids."
Police officials said the most important deterrent in school violence are the kids themselves.
"The kids are your best intel," said Lt. Jeff Van Sloten of the Oakland Police Department, which has two full-time police officers assigned to Oakland Unified's most troubled campuses. "Inside and outside of school, the kids know what's going on, and if you have relationships with kids they can give you tips. No high school student wants to be known as a snitch, but we get a lot of notes and anonymous calls."

Willow Glen High School in San Jose has eschewed security cameras but has the school staff carry walkie-talkies and monitor entryways for suspicious activity. They also hired police officers, who blend in with the school crowd by wearing jeans, sneakers and San Jose Police Department polo shirts. Students say they like not having surveillance cameras.

"I would not want to go to a school like that," said senior Anna Giang, 17, who is heavily involved in student-driven efforts to break down cliques and foster a sense of school pride and unity. "If we had barbed wire around the fence and cameras everywhere, that would make me feel less safe."

Other high schools in the Santa Clara Valley are having teachers take "Code Red Training", where teachers learn how to deal with armed intruders and active shooter scenarios.

"Schools have to know how to manage everything from kids having a fight to a 9.5 earthquake," said Carla Holtzclaw of Code Red Training. "There's not one way to keep a campus safe.''
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