A state security panel advising Gov. Eric Holcomb on school safety improvements released 18 sound recommendations last week. Admirably, the list begins with proposals to enhance mental health screening and to train educators to recognize warning signs for behavioral issues.
But as with the governor's overture to equip schools with hand-held metal detectors, the recommendations rely heavily on hardware and security professionals. A recent report from The 74, an education news website, shines light on the growing clout of the $3 billion school security industry and its influence over elected officials and frightened educators “ripe for exploitation” in the wake of each school shooting.
The 74's Mark Keierleber describes the annual conference of the Security Industry Association in May:
“Security officials in the room hawked a range of products that could have been ripped from a James Bond movie: surveillance cameras with facial recognition capability, automated door locks, gunshot detection sensors and software that scans social media platforms in search of the next shooter,” he wrote. “If schools across the country put a larger emphasis on securing their buildings, they said, educators could prevent shootings or, at the very least, mitigate the bloodshed.”
They also lobby Congress. U.S.Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana and Rep. Rick Larsen of Washingtonformed the Congressional School Safety Caucus in 2016.
“Brooks acknowledged that the caucus was formed after executives at security companies with offices in her district, including Allegion, urged the move,” writes Keierleber. Allegion has a regional office in Carmel and an Indiana production facility for locks and other door hardware. It also offers training courses and seminars on school safety,
The industry lobbies state lawmakers, as well.
The director of the Secure Schools Alliance, a trade group, is co-chair of the homeland security task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-controlled group that writes model legislation for conservative lawmakers to carry in their respective legislatures.
As the governor and legislators consider the recommendations set forth by the Indiana safety panel, the influence of deep-pocketed lobbyists is worth considering. The 74 points to federal statistics showing fewer than 3 percent of murders involving children between 1992 and 2015 occurred at schools. Protecting students is important work, but fear-mongering and political influence shouldn't rule the day.