Softening Security Can Be a Good Thing

Today’s school officials often wish to achieve the best of two goals — having solid security while maintaining a warm and caring human environment. These dual goals are actually often complimentary and can usually be accomplished with the right approach to security.

For example, the process of being screened at the entrance of a school with a metal detector can easily become a degrading experience if the screener is rude and disrespectful. At the same time, even a seemingly more aggressive use of metal detectors, such as random surprise metal detection of students in their classrooms during the school day, has proven to be not unpleasant, and even welcome when done in a polite and respectful manner.

The first district to use this technique in the United States found that students often applauded the school district police officers for their efforts at the conclusion of the search. This at first was a shock to school officials, until they began to ask students why they had this reaction. Students routinely reported that the officers always explained the reasons for the search, how classrooms were selected, were polite and even joked with the students to lighten the mood of the event. The officers took the time after each search to point out that the searches were conducted to prevent serious injury or death to the students, their friends, siblings who attend school and their teachers. The students viewed the experience very differently than may at first be expected.

While the spoken words and body language of the people who implement security measures are probably the most important way to soften security measures, the body language of the school can dramatically affect the tone of security at a school. The thoughtful effort to incorporate bright colors and murals, shown in the picture accompanying this column, is a perfect example. The security fencing in the photo is so aggressive it would probably never be used in an American school due to concerns of civil liability. However, due to the impressive and friendly body language of the painting of the school, people tend not to notice the nine-in. double razor-sharp spikes on top of the fence.

While we usually do not have to look very far to see examples of prison-like school environments that have been inadvertently created in an attempt to improve school safety, it is really not that difficult to create warm and caring high security environments with the right approach. As these examples from the U.S. and abroad indicate, many school officials have found that it is often possible to soften the tone of security measures without sacrificing the level of security.