Earlier this month, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell joined brothers DOE Chancellor David Banks and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks to delineate previously announced plans implementing door-locking mechanisms in more than 1,000 New York City public schools.
“We intend to lock the front doors once our kids are in school, and anybody who’s coming to visit the school will have to present themselves before entry is made,” said Chancellor Banks. “The doors will not be wide open for anyone to simply walk into. We’re going to start this process in May. We’re going to start with our elementary schools first. It’s going to take place over a number of months.
“We certainly hope to have all of our schools outfitted with this new technology by the spring. Our school safety agents are being trained in this new system as well.”
The technology’s implementation stems from the uptick of school shootings nationwide, although it was announced before the March’s shooting in Nashville.
“Over the last several years, there [has] been a significant increase in the number of shooters under the age of 18 [along with] the number under 18…who are victims and arrested with a gun,” said Sewell. “In fact, under-18 shooting victims actually accounted for 10% of our shooting victims over the last year, so pointedly, what we see is an increase in youth crime and more youth victims of crime.”
During the panel, School Safety Division Deputy Chief Marlon Larin mentioned roughly 175 incoming school safety agents this month, along with another 118 arriving in May. He added that the current force sits at roughly 4,000 uniformed and civilian members, around 1,000 below pre-pandemic levels. Last month, Chalkbeat reported the city’s budget indicates there’s little intention to rise back up to 5,000 agents.
Whatever plans the city has for school safety, Teamsters Local 237—which represents the agents—isn’t clued in. President Gregory Floyd told the Amsterdam News the union hasn’t been consulted on matters of hiring or training for the door-locking mechanism.
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“We have no comment at this time because no one from the Adams administration contacted us about hiring more school safety agents and their new duties of staffing locked school doors,” he said. “We really can’t weigh in on this issue, since its planning and implementation was never discussed with us.”
Anthony Gentile, associate director of the Center for Private Security and Safety at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the best perimeter is a closed perimeter.
“It’s going to work if the school safety officers are properly trained,” he said. “What level of clearance satisfies the security officer or the safety officers to allow that visitor in? We don’t know those things yet. No matter what we do, there’s always going to be a vulnerability, and I always tell parents who I speak to that in spite of our best efforts, sometimes bad things are gonna happen.”
The Newtown Public Schools enlisted Gentile as a public safety expert after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He recommends the city look at using the space between the front door and the lobby door, which he’s seen at a majority of local public schools, as a potential mantrap if the locks are installed on both ends. He said the mechanism can not only enclose a potential shooter, but also protect students fleeing into the school, a concern brought up during the panel.
“I can’t speak to every design in every New York City school, but I do know that the majority, if not all, of the high schools I have visited have that front door and then a bit of a lobby, and then that second door where you come into contact with the access control,” said Gentile. “A mantrap there would be perfectly (safe), whereby that person comes in, that door closes behind them.
“They can’t leave, and they can’t get past that vestibule until security lets them in or tells them to leave the door. What that would do is allow that student who fears something externally to get back into the building into a safe haven.”
Jackie Rowe-Adams of Harlem Mothers (and Fathers) S.A.V.E. commended the city’s school safety efforts, but said more needs to be done.
“This is serious. I’m glad they took that measure and I support it wholeheartedly,” she said. “But more needs to be done (to) put in some more security measures. This is a start…they may have the parents’ associations, the parent councils. Everybody [needs to] work together because this is very serious. We’re losing our children.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.