In response to the Elm City’s continued spree of school-based violence, Hillhouse High School will be the first of New Haven’s public schools to upgrade its security system, using a grant approved by the Public Safety Committee of the Board of Aldermen on Wednesday.
The security grant, which was provided by the U.S. Department of Justice with the understanding that the city will match it over a two-year period, calls for Hillhouse to increase the presence of police personnel and security hardware on its campus.
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“Where there are two [metal detectors], we really should have four,” said Interim Director of Security Lieutenant Dwight Ware. “We have an obligation to make certain that all young people are checked.”
As outlined in the grant, Hillhouse will add new metal and hand-held detectors and also introduce door locks and security doors on its premises. In addition, the school will install a portable radio system to bolster communication among its security personnel and require them to undergo a new training program. The school will also ask school resource officers to extend their working hours.
The grant was issued in response to a surge of incidents involving youth violence on the school’s campus, where a team of school resource officers, security guards and administrators regularly mediate conflicts involving weapons such as handguns and knives. Hillhouse was chosen as the test subject for the grant after it witnessed the greatest number of incidents of gun violence among New Haven public schools last school year.
Many public schools in New Haven have added security systems involving metal detectors and armed personnel in recent years as an answer to escalating neighborhood violence.
“Sometimes [students] come from neighborhoods where they feel like they have to protect themselves, and they do that until the school doors,” Wake said. “We want every young person to feel safe.”
Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said that while Hillhouse’s handbook expressly bans students from carrying weapons to school, many students do not adhere to the regulations.
Some committee members said they were concerned about how students would receive the security changes.
“Are students going to believe that their school is now a prison?” Shah said. “You’re talking about kids. We do not want to give them an impression of a lock-down.”
He added that while he saw the initiative’s merits, its success will depend on how it is executed.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsy Clark said officials must take care to involve students in the decision-making process so as to minimize such resistance, recalling a town meeting held last year at which students openly criticized the police.
“Young people could begin to see this as a police state unless they are involved in the process,” she said. “How you get people to go along with things is to engage them in decisions.”
Shah also said he was concerned the proposal did not specify the source from which the city would draw the money to match the grant. The security grant was passed with the understanding that the Board of Education would clarify this point at a future meeting.
Wake said that though the changes will initially only benefit Hillhouse High School, officials eventually plan to apply a standard security system across the New Haven public schools.