JCPS: standing metal detectors not needed

Allison Ross

Putting standing metal detectors at the entrances of Jefferson County Public Schools campuses is probably not needed right now, district officials told the school board Tuesday.

Responding to pressure from some community members to consider the machines in schools, JCPS Chief Operations Officer Michael Raisor said that his research had found that such metal detectors "are not an effective deterrent, an effective safety mechanism in schools."

Instead, he highlighted a number of JCPS' safety protocols and precautions and suggested other areas where the district could invest. Among his suggestions: to increase the number of schools using card access technology and to pay to replace or add handheld metal detector wands at all schools.

Raisor said all JCPS campuses got handheld metal detectors about a decade ago but that some schools no longer have them or have ones that are broken.

He said his research has shown that random wand searches of students were more effective deterrents than standing metal detectors.

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He identified a number of potential issues with standing metal detectors, including how they would need to be manned at all times - including after school hours - in order to be effective, the need to frisk students who set off the metal detector, and how such machines could create bottlenecks of students trying to get into the buildings in the morning.

"If someone really has it in their mind to do harm to children, 2,000 standing outside the school are a lot easier target than individuals," Raisor said.

The board members thanked Raisor for doing research before his presentation, which was part of an hour-long work session on ensuring safe schools.

Board members Lisa Willner and Chris Kolb expressed concerns about potential profiling of students, notably with random handheld wand searches.

Raisor said he would suggest such searches be done using a computer algorithm to eliminate concerns about bias. JCPS officials said new handheld detectors for every school would cost about $23,000, although Raisor said he is looking into an option to make their purchase cost-neutral.

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In September, a group of Louisville attorneys sent a letter to the district, asking for metal detectors at JCPS' middle and high schools. The attorneys said they had concerns about the "continuing dangers of gun violence" in schools and said the machines would act as deterrents to students and others bringing in weapons.

So far this school year, JCPS has had 11 incidents related to firearms, although one incident was an airsoft pistol and another was a look-alike weapon, JCPS said.

In October, Raisor and other JCPS officials and some of those attorneys went to Cincinnati to see standing metal detectors in use at Taft High School. Cincinnati Public Schools said in October that the metal detectors have not eliminated weapons at that school but that it had not found any guns at the school in the 2016-2017 school year as of that point.

Raisor on Tuesday told the board that his impression of what he saw at Taft was a metal detector that beeped for many students, which caused a subsequent student frisk and backpack check that was less stringent than the search of his wife's purse at Disney World this past summer.

Raisor stressed that his recommendation was not based on the cost of the machines, but about what he found as far as their effectiveness as a deterrent. He said his recommendation now does not necessarily preclude him from changing his mind in the future if he feels the situation warrants standing metal detectors.

"One gun is one too many. One knife is one too many," Raisor said.

Reporter Allison Ross can be reached at (502) 582-4241. Follow the Courier-Journal's education team at