Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

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Making schools safer

The Clark County School District could improve safety on its campuses by buying small hand-held metal detectors for School Police and restricting entry points to campuses, says a security consultant hired after this winter's shooting of students.

Consultants also recommended improvements that include installation of live-feed cameras at campus entry points and additional security training for administrators and School Police.

District Superintendent Walt Rulffes requested the security analysis after several students were injured in a shooting near Mojave High School in December. Rulffes said he will carry out some of the recommendations as funds allow.

Overall, the district rated high in the report, which was obtained Tuesday morning by the Sun. “The degree of teamwork between (Clark County School Police) officers and the campus administrators is superior to what you would normally find in a district that large,” said Gary Avery, training director for the Law Advisory Group of Avon, Ohio.

Avery was hired for the two-day visit, at a cost of $3,200. He and a second consultant visited the district on Feb. 13 and 14. On Feb. 15, a Palo Verde High School freshman was killed in a drive-by shooting while walking home from school. A Palo Verde sophomore was arrested the following day, and is facing murder charges.

Avery, who has spent 23 years advising schools and municipalities on safety issues, said in an interview with the Sun on Tuesday that the district’s overall campus security is very good.

However, he said that focus group conversations with some campus administrators and School Police officers gave him a sense they were unclear about the legal threshold they needed to meet before searching students or their belongings. The courts have held on school property, educators and police need only have a “reasonable suspicion” before searching a student. That’s a lower threshold than the “probable cause” required outside the school setting, Avery said.

In his report, Avery also recommended that School Police immediately undergo training to make sure they understood the difference between “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause,” and were familiar with the latest court rulings.

“Several of your officers are already in tune with this modern thinking,” Avery wrote. “But we encountered those who are not.”

School administrators should also receive similar training in how to properly carry out a campus investigation, Avery said.

The Law Advisory Group offers such training as part of its consulting services. School Police spokesman Ken Young said Tuesday that he did not believe the department’s officers had received insufficient training, or lacked a clear understanding of the law.

Bill Hoffman, senior counsel for the Clark County School District, said Tuesday that school administrators learn about relevant legal issues as part of their required coursework for a master’s degree. “Reasonable suspicion” is covered in the class, Hoffman said.

“I should know,” he said with a laugh. “I teach it.”

Additionally, the district regulation dealing with student searches uses the phrase “reasonable suspicion,” Hoffman said.

“If I were to line up 100 administrators and ask them what to do when you think a student has a gun, they would know what to do,” Hoffman said. “They know what their role is, and their obligations in conducting a search.”

Among the consultants’ findings:

*Traditional metal detectors are not a workable solution, given the numerous entrances at each campus and the number of students who would have to pass through them, the consultants concluded. Those findings are consistent with an earlier consultant’s study of the feasibility of adding metal detectors

at Canyon Springs High School.

*Instead of doorway detectors, the district should purchase 8-inch handheld metal detectors, which can be “quickly used in school hallways, without drawing attention to the process.”

*Frequent, intermittent metal detection should be combined with inspections of students’ lockers, desks and bags. School entry points should be more restricted, and those entrances monitored by real-time cameras.

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