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Wake County school safety task force concerned about inconsistent security measures

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The word inconsistent was said more than a few times Thursday by members of the Wake County school system's new school safety task force after getting an overview of the current security practices.

As noted in today's article, task force members were surprised to hear about the lack of a uniform standard of security measures at the 169 schools. For instance, the majority of schools don't have a security officer or computer system for managing visitors and a large minority have few or no surveillance cameras and outdated locking systems.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, co-chair of the task force. “We’ve got a lot of inconsistencies.”

Of Wake’s 169 schools, 111 don’t have either a school resource officer or a private security officer. Most are elementary schools.

In terms of monitoring visitors, 140 have no visitor management system in place. Only 27 schools have the Lobby Guard system which can be networked to a central place to let them know if a registered sex offender or a person who has been barred from visiting a school is trying to gain entry.

Russ Smith, Wake's senior director of security, said cost is a reason why a lot of schools haven't purchased Lobby Guard.

Smith said the Ident-A-Kid system provided for free by the vendor to some schools is not adequate.

The policy on locks is also inconsistent with access control into schools varying based on the principal.

Smith said all the elementary schools have an electronic locking system, either the old Intelli-key system or the more modern card access system.

But Smith said 60 schools, the majority of them elementary, use Intelli-key. He said the system is more than 10 years old and is hard to maintain,"not reliable" and "not very good."

Only two middle schools, one high school and 49 elementary schools have the newer card access system for securing exterior doors.

The surveillance camera situation also varies.

Smith said 21 older elementary schools have no cameras and another group of older schools only has one camera pointing at the front door. In comparison, he said the average at elementary schools is 10 cameras.

Smith said over the past six, seven years the newer schools have gotten the features such as cameras and the card access system.

“It’s a hodgepodge of a system, which is the way I would describe it now,” Smith told the task force.

Smith said that schools may increase their camera allotment by raising funds. Once they have the funding, Wake contracts to have the cameras added.

Smith said this increase in cameras is based solely on a given school's ability to purchase them.

Smith said that school PTAs have helped raise funds for more cameras and other security measures.

“The best way we can say it is we have some haves and have nots,” he said.

One of the task force members questioned why the PTAs have had to pick up the funding slack for security.

Smith said there are several different camera system in use with no district standard. He said there's also no board policy on cameras, locking systems or visitor management.

"Right now we’ve got so many different systems," Harrison said. "I was amazed at what I heard today.”

School board chairman Keith Sutton said centralizing security might be necessary. He said they want to find a balance to make sure schools are safe without turning them into fortresses.

“We may want to have a standard at all schools for the number of cameras or resource officers they might have,” Sutton said.

Smith said this "mish-mash" of systems is why they're proposing $18.1 million for the next school bond for more surveillance cameras, installing electronic locking systems at all schools, placing an entrance buzzer at elementary schools and installing at every school a networked visitor registration system and a networked public address system.

Despite the concerns raised Thursday, Smith said parents shouldn’t be worried.

“I feel all of our schools are safe,” Smith said. “But there’s room for improvement.”

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Always room for improvement but...

Why are we spending money on a non-problem. What needs to happen is to establish a security continguency plan and practice it, that's all. Spending this kind of money on a non-problem is ridiculous. And standardization is silly given that some schools are in high crime areas and others are not. $18.1 million is money that would be better spent on things that educate children. This is "fortress America" mentallity that should go the way of the dinosaurs, it is not healthy for society.

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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.
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