In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Cold Spring school shooting
DocumentCold Spring school shooting
DocumentShooting breaks out in school
DocumentVeteran teacher called hero
DocumentFriends of alleged shooter think teasing played a part
DocumentWitnesses tell the story
DocumentParents, students examine their relationships
DocumentThe suspect is charged
DocumentStudents return to school
DocumentFar from Cold Spring, students shaken by shooting
DocumentStudy: Deadly lessons. Understanding lethal school violence
Did bullying play a part?
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Cold Spring discusses tighter school security
Larger view
Security consultant Jim Schumann inside the high school in Sartel, Minnesota. Schumann says metal detectors won't solve safety problems at schools. He prefers cameras and alarms at schools, and says teachers should be trained to recognize students with problems before they become violent. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
It's been two weeks since a shooting at Rocori High School in Cold Spring. One student was buried last week, another is still in critical condition. Now grief turns to questioning. What should happen next?

Some parents say the school should spend more money on security measures. Metal detectors are one option being considered. But the experts say spending a lot of money on new safety measures is unnecessary and could create a false sense of security.

Cold Spring, Minn. — Jim Schumann walks around the outside of Sartell High School in central Minnesota. Schumann, a security consultant, is working with school officials in Sartell to solve some of their safety concerns.

One example is the school's dozens of entrances.

"In the past, what I've recommended -- with the doors like what we're looking at here during the school day -- to take the handles off the outside of the doors. Then they're still able to exit from the inside, but someone coming up can't access from the outside. And a lot of them have done that," Schumann says as he tries to open one of the doors. "These are locked. They're trying to get everyone in through one access point."

Larger view
Image Richard Lawrence

Security has been on the mind of school officials across Minnesota lately.

The shooting at Rocori High School in Cold Spring late last month has administrators re-evaluating security. People in Cold Spring wonder if metal detectors could have prevented the shooting at Rocori. Schumann is doubtful.

"I don't know if they could have done anything different. I don't know -- if a person makes up their mind that they're going to do something, unless there's a real outward sign that it's going to happen, or there's past history to it -- that there's a way to prevent that from happening," says Schumann.

Instead, Schumann advocates cameras and alarms at schools, but says it's just as important to train teachers to recognize students with problems before they become violent.

Officials at the state Department of Education say in Minnesota, only the Minneapolis School District uses metal detectors. Those are hand-held detectors and they're used rarely, usually just for school dances or events.

I'm here to tell you, based on all the information we have from across the United States, metal detectors do not make schools safer. Cannot. There's limits to them -- guns can still get in.
- Richard Lawrence, criminal justice professor at St. Cloud State University

Very few schools across the country have metal detectors, even schools that have had fatal shootings, according to Richard Lawrence, a criminal justice professor at St. Cloud State University. That's because metal detectors are expensive, inconvienient, and don't always work.

"I'm here to tell you, based on all the information we have from across the United States, metal detectors do not make schools safer. Cannot. There's limits to them -- guns can still get in," says Lawrence.

Even those who have first-hand experience with a school shooting doubt the overall effectiveness of metal detectors.

Bill Bond was principal at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky. In December 1997, a 14-year old freshman boy shot eight students at the school, and three died. Bond doesn't think metal detectors would have prevented the shootings in West Paducah or Cold Spring.

"Because if you think of the scenario -- you'd have 50 kids lined up at the metal detector, waiting to go through. That would be in the case you had and the case we had, where the shooting would take place at the metal detectors."

Heath High School did increase security after the shooting, but decided against metal detectors. Bond says the detectors only cost a few thousand dollars. But money for trained security personnel would have cost thousands more.

In the end, the school reduced its entrances from 18 to three. Teachers hand search backpacks and gym bags at those entrances every morning.

Bond says it's up to a community to decide what security measures need to be taken. He says that decision shouldn't be driven soley by emotion.

"You're two weeks from the shooting. The mood is going to change from one of grief to -- 'What could we have done to prevent it?" says Bond. "And people being people, you're always looking at the simplest possible scenario. Not necessarily the best, but the quickest -- and people's minds turn to more security."

Bond says if the people of Cold Spring insist on metal detectors and are willing to pay for them, that's the approach the community should take. But he cautions machines won't solve a problem that begins and ends with people.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects