Paying for Protection

Programs cut. Raises rescinded. Salaries frozen. Class sizes increased. Workers let go. Courses eliminated. Each day, the headlines bring another tale of a school system or college straining to cope with dwindling resources.

The sputtering economy has choked off the flow of money from state coffers to thousands of school districts and higher-education institutions throughout the nation, and education administrators face difficult choices as they try to preserve educational quality with less-than-adequate finances.

At the same time, whenever violence erupts on a school campus, it sends shudders throughout the educational community, and students, parents and community members raise their voices to insist that schools be more vigilant about security. The anxiety over security weighs even more heavily upon administrators as the specter of terrorism looms over vulnerable campuses in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

The collision course between security demands and budget constraints is one that all schools and universities must address. Administrators must balance the priorities of providing security with the reality of shrinking budgets. For some schools, that means forgoing equipment upgrades and staffing increases. For others it means seeking grants to bolster security resources, or including equipment and infrastructure upgrades in bond issue proposals. Many institutions that have been spared cutbacks so far are concentrating on maintaining security programs rather than looking at enhancements.

“We've been circling the wagons to protect what we have,” says Thomas Nichols, police chief in the Lubbock, Texas, school district.

Doing more with less

In a municipality, police protection is one of the core services provided to constituents. But schools and universities focus primarily on educating students, so police and security departments often have to take a back seat to other priorities. Since Columbine and 9/11 have become familiar if unsettling terms for education administrators, security needs have been given more attention. But when budgets are squeezed, areas beyond the core mission of educating students are prime targets for funding freezes or rollbacks.

“We'll still provide services to faculty, students and staff, but we may not have all the equipment for officers that we need,” says Priscilla Stevens, director of public safety at the University of Wisconsin — River Falls.

In Boston, the school system faced a shortfall of $41 million for this school year unless cuts were identified. Administrators were able to balance the budget without slashing funds for safety and security, but without an infusion of additional funds, the security staff can't keep up with the district's safety needs.

“We have less people, so it's harder,” says John Sisco, chief of safety services for Boston schools. “We can't keep up with the need for equipment and uniforms.”

Sisco says his department is receiving no additional resources, even though three more buildings opened up this summer. “To cover those buildings, we'll have to be thinner elsewhere.”

To supplement their funding, some officers have resorted to a strategy long practiced by classroom teachers when budgets are tight.

“A lot of guys are buying stuff out of their own pocket,” says Sisco.

In other districts, cutbacks have forced some institutions to curtail their school resource officer program. As a community policing initiative, municipalities have placed officers in middle and high schools to provide a police presence and serve as a friendly law-enforcement liaison to students.

In Des Moines, Iowa, when the city government had to come up with spending cuts this summer, it recommended eliminating its share of funding for the program, which had officers at six Des Moines high schools and a supervising sergeant. The city had been paying about 60 percent of the cost of the program.

After complaints from the public and school officials, the city backed off and agreed to continue the program, says Klark Jessen, public information officer for the Des Moines district. The district agreed to pay a greater share of the costs, and the city agreed to pursue a federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant to cover its share of the funding. In August, the Department of Justice awarded $21.4 million in grants for school resource officers, including $875,000 over three years for Des Moines.

Built-in security

Institutions with tight security budgets still can acquire the funds to upgrade their security systems through bond issues or other capital-improvement programs. Technological improvements have made equipment such as surveillance cameras more affordable and effective, and many schools and universities are taking advantage.

In the Spring (Texas) district near Houston, voters last month approved a $257 million bond package that includes $19.5 million for technology upgrades.

“The bond money will allow the district to upgrade a lot of our analog cameras to digital,” says Alan Bragg, chief of police for the Spring district.

The district has about 500 surveillance cameras, but only about 200 are digital. The digital cameras allow officers to store images for four to six weeks and immediately retrieve them.

“The cameras are definitely a deterrent,” says Bragg. “You never know how much deterrent you provide. But in the hallways, the students do tend to act better.”

The district also is including security systems in construction costs as it plans to build new facilities.

“It's cheaper to put the systems in as the school is built,” says Bragg.

Granting wishes

Just as other parts of an education institution look to supplement spending with outside funds, police and security departments seek out grant opportunities to provide what their own budget can't accommodate. The Education, Justice and Homeland Security departments all have grant programs that can bolster school security.

One of the more popular programs available is the COPS in Schools grant program, which helps districts pay for school resource officers. Since 1999, it has disbursed more than $715 million to local agencies and school systems, and has helped train and hire more than 6,000 officers.

Other funds are available for anti-violence and crime-prevention programs, as well as training in emergency planning and crisis response.

“We look at grants through the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act,” says Nichols. “Other grants are available for smaller things, like bulletproof vests.”

In the Spring (Texas) district, officials are pursuing grants to upgrade laptop computer technology in patrol cars and to add video cameras to patrol cars.

As schools and universities become better at convincing legislatures and others controlling the purse strings that campuses are not immune to the troubles that beset the rest of society, they will have better success acquiring the necessary funds for safety and security.

“Campuses are not a safe haven,” says Stevens. “They are a community within a community, and crimes and fires and medical emergencies happen there just as they do everywhere else. We've got to have the money to deal with them.”

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

SIDEBAR: Preparing for the worst

Regardless of how budget cuts affect security and law enforcement on college and university campuses, public-safety officials must be prepared to deal with threats of terrorism that are all too plausible in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the war in Iraq.

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) is working with federal agencies to make sure that campus police and security officers at some 4,000 higher-education institutions get the training they need to prevent, deter or effectively respond to a “weapons of mass destruction” terrorist attack.

IACLEA has received a two-year grant from the Office of Domestic Preparedness of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to present Weapons of Mass Destruction Awareness Course sessions. The course will focus on the threats posed to U.S. higher-education institutions by terrorists.

“The training focuses on what to look for and how to deal with it,” says Priscilla Stevens, public-safety director at the University of Wisconsin — River Falls and a Midwest regional director for IACLEA.

Among the topics covered are chemical awareness, biological effects, hazardous materials, radiological concerns and nuclear material. It looks at areas that are common to college campuses, such as laboratories, stadiums, nuclear reactors, power plants and animal research.

“The university is a soft target,” says Stevens. “It's easy to come onto campus without being noticed.”

By using a “train the trainer” technique, the program will gradually spread to police and security personnel at all U.S. college campuses. IACLEA hopes that after two years, all 30,000 campus police and security officers will have undergone the training.

SIDEBAR: Sworn to uphold the law

When classes resumed in August in the Dallas district, several of the officers patrolling the school grounds had a different look. To bolster security and provide a more professional presence, the Dallas school board agreed to convert its Safety and Security department to Police and Security Services.

The new department will be staffed with sworn police officers, who, unlike the existing security force, are authorized to carry guns. Transforming the department will take place over five years. For the first year, Dallas will have 21 police officers and three detectives. District officials estimate the conversion will boost the security budget, now at about $7 million, by $1.5 million.

“There's no question that police are more effective than security patrols,” says Thomas Nichols, chief of police in the Lubbock, Texas, school district and immediate past president of the Texas Association of School District Police.

School police can enforce not only laws, but also school rules and regulations. Typically, police officers receive more extensive training than security officers. Dallas has supplemented its security staff by having officers from the Dallas police force assigned to patrols. Over the next five years, the school police department will replace the Dallas officers and gradually take over responsibility for investigating crimes on district property.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.