Security companies spent years trying to get schools to buy more products, from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons that spew haze from ceilings to confuse a shooter. Sales were slow, but that changed in February, when a former student killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fl., school.
The rampage reignited the U.S. gun-control debate, and it propelled industry efforts to sell school fortification as the answer to the mass killing of kids, reports the Associated Press. Since that attack, security firms and nonprofit groups linked to the industry persuaded lawmakers to elevate the often-costly “hardening” of schools over other measures that researchers say are proved to reduce violence.
The industry helped Congress draft a law that committed $350 million to equipment and other school security over the next decade. Nearly 20 states have come up with another $450 million, and local school districts are reworking budgets to find more.
The boom in security sales comes as increasing numbers of school districts are debating how to balance the need for more security with fears that schools could become “armed fortresses” with a deleterious impact on school atmosphere. Reports in Maryland and New Jersey have investigated the growing use of special alarms, increased guards and other measures.
Research does not support claims that much of the high-tech hardware and gadgets schools are buying will save lives, according to two 2016 Rand reports prepared for the U.S. Justice Department. That has not stopped industry representatives from rushing in, some misusing school violence data to stoke fears that “soft target” schools could be victims of terrorist attacks or negligence lawsuits. “School safety is the Wild, Wild West,” said Mason Wooldridge, a security consultant. “Any company can claim anything they want.”
Educators worry that hardening will siphon money from programs that prevent bullying and counsel at-risk kids. Students have reported in government surveys that visible security measures like metal detectors and armed officers make them feel less safe.
Revenue for school security companies would grow even more than analysts project if the industry succeeds in plans to draft state legislation that would set minimum standards for campus equipment purchases.