Security, tech experts skeptical about metal detectors in schools


The School District of Palm Beach County made a multimillion-dollar investment in the name of safety last year. But as other school districts, like Broward County, look to Palm Beach County to launch their own metal detector programs, experts warn that the technology does not necessarily make schools safer.

“For what’s been going around in other states and stuff, I feel like it makes the school environment safer,” Stephania Emmanuel, a student at Boynton Beach Community High School said Feb. 15, the first-day students at the school passed through metal detectors on their way to class.

Students that morning told WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind that the process of passing through metal detectors was fast and easy. School administrators said the same.

Since approving a contract worth more than $2 million, Palm Beach County Schools has outfitted 12 of its 24 high schools with portable metal detectors that can be rolled away when not in use.

Dr. Ken Trump explains to WPTV chief investigator Jamie Ostroff why he believes metal...
Dr. Ken Trump explains to WPTV chief investigator Jamie Ostroff why he believes metal detectors at schools are not a panacea when it comes to the safety of students.

“Our concern is a lot of the shiny objects, the bells and whistles, the visible things create security theater,” Dr. Ken Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services consulting firm, said.

Trump, who is of no relation to former president Donald Trump, spent 30 years working in K-12 schools and has provided expert testimony in school shooting cases, including Parkland.

“(Metal detectors) make people feel safer, but they may not actually make people safer,” Trump said.

Students walk through a metal detector at Boynton Beach Community High School on Feb. 15, 2024...
Students walk through a metal detector at Boynton Beach Community High School on Feb. 15, 2024 (1).PNG

Donald Maye, head of operations for security technology research firm IPVM, points to a 2022 study from the University of Southern Mississippi’s National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, which tested the effectiveness of one brand of metal detector at a sporting event. The brand studied is used in schools across the country, but not in Palm Beach County.

The published report of the study’s findings show high scores in all performance measures for the metal detector. But Maye filed public record requests for materials related to the study that were not published, including emails and documents showing the metal detector company helped fund the study and make revisions to the published report.

Donald Maye explains some of the positives and negatives of having metal detectors in schools.
Donald Maye explains some of the positives and negatives of having metal detectors in schools.

Maye, who shared his findings with WPTV, also found lower scores that were not included in the report.

“Some of these systems routinely miss knives and small weapons,” Maye said of those findings.

The good news, Maye said, is that metal detectors contain sensitivity settings that allow them to detect more objects. However, that could come at the cost of convenience.

“What that means is, is that common objects that students will be carrying into a school like Chromebooks, umbrellas, water bottles, even three-ring binders may set the alarm off on the system,” Maye said.

“I think that … we’ve kind of hit that sweet spot on the settings for the equipment,” said Chief Sarah Mooney of the Palm Beach County School District Police Department, telling WPTV she’s aware of the skepticism surrounding metal detectors. “If we were to say that the metal detectors was the only thing that we’re doing on the campus, yeah, I would say …. that’s not a good plan.”

Chief Sarah Mooney of the School District of Palm Beach County shares why she believes metal...
Chief Sarah Mooney of the School District of Palm Beach County shares why she believes metal detectors are helping keep students safe.

Trump said the best school security plan goes beyond the expensive technology.

“The No. 1 way we find out about weapons plots and kids who are going to cause harm to themselves and others is when a kid comes forward and tells an adult that they trust,” Trump said.

To that point, Mooney said the metal detectors have provided school staff an opportunity to build that trust.

“You get little stories and little pieces of information from the students, and you get special interactions with them as a result of this,” Mooney said. “It’s kind of neat to see that even this early on in the program.”

According to the school district, the metal detectors have not caught any weapons since the rollout began at the beginning of the school year. Twelve of the district’s 24 high schools now have metal detectors.

Currently, there are no scientific studies of the brand of metal detector used in Palm Beach County. While there are a handful of anecdotes involving a weapon in a school that uses that brand, there is no proof of whether the metal detector missed the weapon or the weapon was brought into the school through a separate entrance.

Scripps Only Content 2024



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