Heavy Metal

Helena Jenkins Looks at Privacy vs. Security

A simplified depiction of the controversial machines that bring  perceived safety and fear in equal measures (source: Google Images).

A simplified depiction of the controversial machines that bring perceived safety and fear in equal measures (source: Google Images).

Helena Jenkins, Staff Writer

Metal detectors are a tool of the trade in preventing dangerous individuals from entering schools with metallic weapons. This is a fact, and as such I must admit there is some merit with them. They can be extremely valuable in alerting school personnel to knives, guns, and other weapons, increasing safety within the school. However, as blasphemous as it may seem, I would argue that metal detectors are ultimately not worth installation, both because of cost and efficacy.

To address cost, let’s look at approximately how much money it would take to outfit our school with metal detectors. Each metal detector of adequate quality would cost about 3000 dollars per door outfitted; we would need approximately 10 units, adding up to $30,000. However, that initial cost isn’t the limit of how much they would cost. This report by the National Institute of Justice research says it all: “The initial purchase price of a portal metal detector is almost insignificant compared with the ongoing personnel costs to operate the equipment in a complete weapon detection program. An excellent example that illustrates this fact is the successful weapon detection program run by the New York City (NYC) Board of Education in about 50 of its inner-city high schools. For just one of its schools with about 2,000 students, the weapon detection program requires 9 security officers for approximately 2 hours each morning.” If we hadn’t passed the levy, we would have had to cut approaching 30 teachers. I can’t imagine our school personally has enough money to fund such an expensive (and never-ending) money-sink.

The other, more nuanced, issue is about the actual usefulness of the metal detection machines. Time and again these security measures have been proven to be ineffective. I am normally all for partial measures (for instance, even if it solves only certain issues, partial gun control has been proven to be amazing at decreasing firearms accidents and deaths, and I support it wholeheartedly). In this instance, however, I believe the efficacy of these machines is so low as to be pointless. We’re already seeing this even with the auto-locking doors this new school has. Doors are left propped open for extracurriculars and sometimes gym classes, and in general if a student sees another student outside, they will open the door and let them in. Metal detectors rely on certain limited points of ingress and egress to be effective; our school is simply too casual about security (or arguably too friendly) to make metal detectors effective. Nationally, I would be willing to make the claim that most schools have a similar treatment of security measures.

The human error caused by those being protected, and the ingenuity of those who wish to harm them, has always been the downfall of security, and in this case in particular, those two factors manage to more than balance out any benefit that might be had from metal detectors.

Readers are welcome to discuss their own opinions in the comments below.