Special Feature: School Safety

safety - school environmentOur nation's schools should be safe havens for children, yet school violence remains a threat that can lead to devastating outcomes.

Violence in schools not only affects the individuals involved, but it can also disrupt the education process and negatively affect the school itself, as well as the surrounding community.

Research has shown that children victimized in school are more prone to skipping school, poor academic performance, dropping out, and violent behaviors. For teachers, incidents of victimization may lead to professional disenchantment or departure from the profession altogether.

Several high-profile incidents of violence at schools have understandably raised concerns about the safety of students while at school. Yet on the national level, crime at schools in the United States has dropped from 1992 to 2013. Additionally, students' fears of being harmed has dropped since the 1990s, based on data collected from school administrators.

While school violence has been on the decline, research has identified a number of factors can increase the risk of a youth engaging in violence at school. These risk factors include a prior history of violence, substance abuse, association with delinquent peers, poor family functioning, poor grades, and poverty in the community. However, the presence of these factors does not always mean that a young person will become violent.

Bullying may often be dismissed as "kids being kids," but it's a serious issue that can lead to lasting problems well into adulthood. Victims of bullying have been shown to have higher rates of anxiety and panic disorders, compared to those who had not been victims.

Local law enforcement officers and school resource officers can be of great assistance to school personnel in helping to reduce or eliminate incidences of bullying by becoming involved in positive school-sponsored bullying prevention programs. Officers can play a leadership role through community policing programs that educate and help young people avoid arrest and prevent contact with the juvenile justice system.

As school officials look for ways to improve school safety, new technology, such as surveillance, weapons detections devices, and building access control systems, offer an opportunity to improve school safety. But there is no universal school safety solution, and no one technology that will solve all school safety and security issues.

When considering security investments, it's important that schools assess their current situation, including the risks and issues that need to be addressed, and then carefully determine appropriate solutions that meet those needs. Even neighboring schools in the same district may have different needs based upon their geography, funding, building layout, and demographics.

To help school leaders make decisions when implementing school safety programs, the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ's) CrimeSolutions.gov has rated more than 100 programs from bullying prevention to dating violence intervention. Additionally, NIJ’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) is a research-focused initiative with the goal of developing knowledge about the root causes of school violence, developing strategies for increasing school safety, and rigorously evaluating innovative school safety strategies through pilot programs.

To learn more, select a page from the "School Safety" box for information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies.

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