Playing to the crowds

In a good example of Security Theater (an expression coined by Bruce Schneier) the government has apparently decided that:

Metal detectors are to be installed at hundreds of schools in England as part of a drive to reduce knife crime.

I don’t know if it’s going to be possible to have any kind of rational debate about this without pointy-fingered accusations of not caring about children’s safety, but even if we leave aside ethical considerations, how exactly does this work?

Here’s a brain-teaser: a comprehensive school of 1500 pupils installs 2 security arches. If it takes 5 seconds for each pupil to pass through an arch, how long does it take to get everyone into school? The answer is 62.5 minutes. That’s on the generous side because 5 seconds per pupil assumes that nobody sets off an alarm, that everyone arrives at the arch with pockets efficiently emptied and then walks briskly through with a minimum of fuss.

Where will the arches be sited? If they are inside the school door, how is a pupil prevented from dumping a knife in the school grounds and going back for it later? On the other hand, if the arches are at the school gate, a lot of people are going to get very wet when queuing for 62.5 minutes in the rain. And even then, what’s to stop someone throwing their weapon of choice over the wall before going in, or persuading someone to pass it through the fence later on? Maybe schools will need to build 20ft walls and mount CCTV cameras and watchtowers along them.

The Home Secretary says:

“I want young people to know that it doesn’t make them safer to carry a knife. It actually makes them more likely to be a victim.”

It would be good to see the evidence for that statement. It may be that young people who are stabbed are more likely to carry knives, but does that necessarily mean that those who carry knives are more likely to be stabbed? Does it take into account under-reporting of weapons amongst those who never use them and are never caught with them?

The whole policy doesn’t sound very well thought-out, and it is, in any case, only tackling a symptom. If it’s true that growing numbers of people are growing up with the impression that stabbing people is the way to resolve arguments, we need a rather more radical solution than frisking them at the school gates. Perhaps we could start by dismantling impersonal, factory-sized schools that make them feel so threatened or angry in the first place.

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