Skip to Content

Security Upgrade

By John Rosales

School security: What was once left to teachers and aides who had "free time" to police hallways is now often the work of highly trained, experienced staff like Sgt. Dan Kivett, the security supervisor at East Valley High School in Redlands, California. Kivett and his crew patrol on foot and bicycle, in golf carts and vehicles.

Today, most schools have emergency plans on file and security personnel in place, a trend that grew after the rash of school shootings in the 1990s. Security service personnel account for 36,000 of NEA's 480,000 education support professionals, and some school systems train ESPs serving in other roles to become security personnel.

Some students call Kivett "Officer Dan," while others refer to him as "Officer Dad." "The kids know I'm going to treat them fair, even when I have to be stern," he says. After issuing one teen a citation, he says, "she loathed me." Kivett and his wife bumped into the former student while grocery shopping one day and she thanked Kivett for caring enough to intercede. "She's in college now. That's the satisfaction of this job."

They may work security part-time, like Holly Smith and Ivy Richardson, who protect the students at Mesa Ridge High School in Colorado Springs. But whether full-time or part-time, school security guards must always be ready to respond to situations that range from bomb threats to littering, fighting, theft, and vandalism, all in the name of protecting students and the learning environment.

"I don't want to be liked or hated," says Kivett. "I want kids to look at me as fair, consistent, and approachable. That way, we can take good care of them."

To prepare for the day, Kivett finds out which teachers are absent, then briefs his six full-time and three part-time officers about the day's activities. East Valley's 3,650 students start arriving in buses around 6:30 a.m. as Kivett  and his team patrol the 56-acre campus' parking lots, athletic fields, and nearby orange groves. "Students like to hide in the groves and skip first period," he says. Because school officers are not authorized to make arrests off school property or to carry weapons, they coordinate closely with local police.

Kivett sometimes gets anonymous calls from people reporting on students sitting in cars, or hanging out at a restaurant. "Students are a little more sophisticated today (about truancy), but some of the excuses for being tardy never change," says Kivett, 47. His favorite: "Oh, I was already late, so I figured I'd just start with second period."

The Routine: Patrolling is a preventative measure. Some of Kivett's officers have beats; all are trained in crowd control. There are 13 active gangs in the area around the school, which makes the school grounds ripe for incidents.

Kivett says high-profile student-on-student violence in the 1990s changed the role of school security. "We look at things a lot differently now. It's not just a kid talking anymore." Kivett says security guards used to "show up in T-shirts and jeans." Today, the use of walkie-talkies, pepper spray, handcuffs, and security vehicles are standard at many schools. "There's a preventative strategy to much of what we do," says Kivett, who is certified in drug influence recognition.

Kivett says he once discovered a student's wallet chain was from a chainsaw. "He didn't know it could be used as a weapon," Kivett says. As a deterrent, nothing beats the drug dog. "They know the dog can show up at any time and sniff out drugs, gun powder, sulphur...a wide variety of substances," says Kivett, who maintains a permanent display of confiscated items in his office for instructional purposes, though most are turned over to the sheriff's office or the district.

Security training emphasizes prevention. "We're taught how to read the signs when students might start fighting," says Smith. In six years, Smith has witnessed about eight fights. "I try to make a loud sound to get their attention and to control the crowd. If you can get the crowd to back up, instead of egging them on, then the fighters usually stop fighting." Richardson takes solace in knowing she has backup. "We all work together for the benefit of the students, to create a safe environment for learning," she says.

Holly Smith (left), once a night custodian, enrolled in her district's Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) workshop in order to apply for daytime work as a security guard-custodian. She often uses the golf cart to patrol the parking lot, where students sometimes "accidentally" park in teachers' spaces. "My favorite part of the job is building relationships with the kids," Smith says. Richardson also uses the golf cart to patrol those trails around campus favored by smokers.

Continue Reading: More Than Just Campus Cops


Just the Facts

  • 85% of school security guards work in school buildings—44% at high schools; 27% at middle or junior high schools; 14% at preschool, kindergarten, or elementary schools. The remaining guards work at multiple levels or district central offices.
  • 84% work full-time
  • 42% are male.
  • 63% have attended at least some college.
  • 60% have met specific job requirements such as certifications or special courses.
  • 23% must take examinations or courses on a regular basis.
  • 48 is the average age

Various security levels—School Resource Officers are usually local or county law enforcement officers. School police departments are regular law enforcement entities that work for, and are paid by, the school district. Hall monitors are often paraprofessionals who perform security functions in addition to administrative duties.

Published in:

Published In