Detroit Public Schools: Doing School Security “On-the-Cheap”?

Posted by on August 21, 2010

Privatizing school safety officers may save money, but does it also increase safety risks?

This debate is unfolding in Detroit, where the Detroit Public Schools recently fired all of its 226 school security officers and replaced them with $10-per-hour contracted private security staff.   The district says doing so will save the district $4.5 million a year and also address absenteeism within the security department.

But the security officers claim the district is union-busting.  They also say new contracted officers will not only receive less pay, they will also get less training — putting students at-risk.

The security staff’s union recently filed court action and the Wayne County Circuit judge granted an injunction.  The judge ordered the district to reinstate the security staff immediately.  The district has indicated it might appeal the judge’s decision.

My Take on the Issue

School security officers rightfully point out that their knowledge of gangs and, most importantly, their relationships with kids, are traits that private contracted security cannot replace.  They also point to a lower level of training for contracted security officers, particularly in comparison to the now-fired in-house security staff.

Points I raised in my interview with Chastity Pratt Dawsey, the Detroit Free Press reporter, included:

  • Privatized security = less money spent =less pay per officer = less training=lower quality workforce;
  • Less training – private security often receives less training than in-house security and in Detroit the incoming privatized officers would reportedly receive less training than existing in-house officers;
  • School security officers, due to their unique positions in working with children, should have more school-specific and child-focused; training, not less training or training content focused along the lines of what would be required of a security guard watching a shopping mall or office building.
  • If the district could not properly supervise, and when necessary terminate, its own employees for alleged chronic absenteeism, how can the community expect the district to manage contracted security officers known for higher turnover and lower skill sets — and who will be overseen and coordinated by a third party contact company?

But another very important point is that the district is losing people who have built relationships with students.  We know a top way we find out about weapons in schools is from students who tell an adult staff member they trust.  And trust is a part of an established relationship, which is built over time, not overnight.

I believe privatizing school security officers anywhere is a risky move.  Doing so in Detroit, a city which has been in the headlines numerous times in recent years for high-profile shootings and school violence, simply makes no sense from a professional school security perspective.  And doing so under the guise of saving $4.5  million, just after the district announced it would be spending $5.6 milion for a new school police/security command center as part of a broader $41.7 million camera and badging security system upgrade, is really questionable.

What say you?

Ken Trump

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