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School Safety Audits

By Michele Coppola
July 2013

Police in a Virginia county are performing extensive safety audits on all public schools as part of an effort to expand school security.

Three officers from the Albemarle County Police Department attended a course in spring 2013 that is based on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles. Upon completion of the three-day course, which is offered through the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), participants are certified as NASRO school CPTED practitioners.

Officer Steve Watson, a crime prevention specialist with the police department, explains that the county’s school resource officers periodically performed safety audits in the past, but the county wanted a more in-depth process.

“The schools worked with us to try and get the schools a little safer. It was an evolved, concerted effort,” Watson says.

The class the Albemarle officers attended in Kansas was the first NASRO school CPTED certification class held. According to the course description, CPTED “uses design, management and activity strategies to reduce opportunities for crime to occur, to reduce fear and to improve overall safety of schools. The CPTED concept emphasizes the relationship of the physical environment, the productive use of space and the behavior of people.” The course includes a hands-on evaluation of a school and provides attendees with tools to use on their school campus.

As part of their school inspections, Albemarle officers use a lengthy survey form provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to review the interior and exterior of the building and examine numerous aspects of school security. The audit looks at organizational structure, mechanical aspects and crime prevention techniques such as locks and surveillance cameras.

“We use the CDC form every time we do a school audit. Basically we are looking at the interior and exterior of the school,” Watson says. “CPTED is about how to use the natural environment to create a safer school — proper landscaping, proper lighting, how to bring people into the entrance without problems and creating areas that discourage potential criminal activity. We are looking at how to manipulate the environment to make it safer.”

Officers consider numerous security issues when evaluating a school.

“My main thing is to look at access, who has access and who is it controlled by,” Watson says. “When people are inside are they identified with visitor badges? Can people get in without going through the main entrance?”

“Basically we take an initial impression when we arrive,” he adds. “We look at the perimeter and how boundaries are defined, is the school easily seen, points of entry, main entrances, exterior of the building and drop off and pick up areas. We look at parking areas, whether visitor parking and staff parking areas are separate and are they monitored by cameras. We look at pedestrian flow through the school property, whether it is monitored and can it be monitored better. We consider all learning buildings, including trailers and whether they are safe, locked, and their lighting, and whether the building doors get propped open during the day.”

Police also look at the cafeteria and the interior office and whether there is good surveillance of the lobby area. They look at restrooms and the overall picture of how students can stay safe with other students.

“The review is pretty extensive. It’s a little bit of everything,” Watson says.

The county has 26 public schools. Police began their school audits in June 2013 and planned to complete most elementary school audits in 2013 and begin reviewing middle and high schools in 2014. The following year they would like to begin doing reviews of the schools they have already completed.

“My goal is to have a yearly process and meet with administrators and see if there are additional safety concerns. Our main goal is to make it a continual process,” Watson says.

Each audit takes between 30 and 60 hours to complete. Officers present their findings and security recommendations to school administrators, including guidance on how to understand the 30-page CDC form ratings, and photographs of the schools to understand safety redesign recommendations.

“The goal of the training is to have officers get those tools to take them back to schools and communities and evaluate their campuses through the CPTED principles to try to make the schools a safer place,” says NASRO president Kevin Quinn, who is a school resource officer in Arizona.

For more information, contact Officer Steve Watson of the Albemarle County Police at watsons@albemarle.org. To learn more about the NASRO school CPTED course, go to http://www.nasro.org/content/school-cpted-practitioner-certification.