Metal Detectors in NYC Schools May Not Be Worthwhile

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Over 100,000 NYC schoolchildren — close one in four middle and high school students — are required to go through security measures seen at airports across the country, complete with removal of belts and shoes and wanding, each day.

Reports from ProPublica and WNYC find over 236 schools in NYC require their students to go through metal detectors upon entering the building. While crime is on its way down, very few weapons are confiscated as a result of the additional security measures, and there has not been a single shooting in a city school since 2002, politicians and school administrators appear to be unwilling to remove the machines.

According to Nathan Tempey for Gothamist, advocates argue that the machines add to the “jail-like atmosphere” already present due to the presence of NYPD officers stationed throughout schools in the area. They add that this environment disproportionately affects students of color, as it increases their chances of coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

Researchers determined that black and Hispanic students are three times more likely to have metal detectors in their schools, while a more recent investigation found that almost half of all African-American high school students in the United States attend a school that has such security measures, writes Betsy McCaughey for The New York Post.

Mayor de Blasio has said he would like for police and school staff to emphasize deescalation rather than turning to arrests and suspensions, the use of which has been increasing at schools found to be the most troubled throughout the city.

Meanwhile, the Brentwood school district is adding metal detectors to their schools after a shooting incident outside the local library last week.  Officials say the need for additional security measures is mounting as gang violence continues to increase in the area.

Last July, a task force commissioned by the mayor recommended that the need for metal detectors in the city be reassessed and that a process for removing them be created. The report issued by the task force, “Safety with Dignity,” states that many students view the machines as “intrusive and denigrating,” and that schools should look to make the security process as unobtrusive as they can.

Metal detectors were originally implemented throughout the city after two students were fatally shot at Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York in 1992, on the same day that then-mayor David Dinkins was supposed to discuss a rise in violence at that school.  Beginning with just 16 schools, the machines were slowly installed throughout the city until they reached their present day number.

Since that time, only two machines have been removed.  Meanwhile, the need for metal detectors at other schools appears to have never been reassessed, as schools shut down and the machines remain intact when new schools open in the same building.

Meanwhile, the report recommends that the NYPD and the Department of Education review scanner protocol and take ideas about reducing their use or removing them altogether under consideration.  However, no public action has been taken to date on the matter.

“It’s very hard to have a rational conversation when you’re talking about the possibility of something happening,” said Judy Bloomberg, principal of Park Slope Collegiate, who is taking steps to get the Education Department to remove the two metal detectors currently located at her school. “They make a lot of people feel safe: it doesn’t mean they make them safe and it doesn’t mean that they’ve considered what they give up.”