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A Crucial Collaboration
There are two essential components to effective school
safety—security systems and police response. For
years, the two have been divided and seen as two separate
entities—the first provided by integrators, and the
second provided by the city or state police department.
Chief Tom Weitzel, the Riverside, Illinois Police Department’s chief
of police, suggests that if the two were blended into a partnership,
security measures could become more effective than they are when
working autonomously. Weitzel, who oversees security for the Riverside
school district, said that by bringing the two organizations
together, industry leaders and government officials can create a
school safety plan with better integration and communication.
Resolving the Tension
While speaking with some individuals from the security industry at a
conference last year, Weitzel realized there was an overwhelming tension
between police officials and integrators. After they had been sitting
discussing security for a time, he began to understand the strain
was on their relationships. He quickly came to the realization that the
strain came from the reality of police officials who weren’t communicating
with integrators, even though they offered a multitude of
expertise in their areas. He said it felt as if each of the organizations—
law enforcement and integrators—had proficiency in certain safety
fields, but neither of them wanted to look to the other for help.
“I realized we really couldn’t do our job without their assistance
when it comes to school safety, and even safety in general,” Weitzel
said. “There was this real disconnect between public law enforcement
and the [integrators] that were there.”
Weitzel gave a presentation at the security conference, and after
presenting, he sat back down at his table. As soon as he returned, an
individual turned to Weitzel and told him that he had just been contracted
to install the security cameras for Weitzel’s school district.
Weitzel said it took him aback, as he didn’t even know the integrator
had been hired to install the cameras. Even though he was directly
involved in the overall security of the schools, he hadn’t been put in
contact with the integrators. Weitzel continued to make conversation
with the individual while wondering why they had not spoken previously
about the district's security needs. As he was discussing the
installation, he realized that the integrator had an abundance of
expertise in his field, and that he could become a meaningful partner
with police to maximize security.
“Talking to him, I realized he had this wealth of knowledge,” Weitzel
said. “He knew exactly what he was doing. He had a plan for how
they were going to put in the cameras in the schools strategically.
Then, I invited him to tie them into our current system here at the
police station so that the 9-1-1 center, along with my officers on their
laptops, could access these cameras.”
Benefitting School Security
Weitzel said this camera integration will be taking place in the near
future, but it’s just one of the ways this partnership can benefit school
security. Since the integrators know how the cameras will be used,
and what their capacity is, they can guide police officers on how to
best use the equipment to amplify security. Additionally, he said the
integrators can help officers draw the line between creating a secure
campus and making the school a fortress. The security professionals
can also build camera programs into squad cars for police to monitor
and teach police how the perimeter security systems work to ensure
they’re being used correctly.
Furthermore, integrators will often offer security surveys to show
facilities which equipment they should install to best increase security.
This could include a number of products ranging from physical
barriers to buzzer doors to bullet-resistant glass. Weitzel said if the
police officials and the integrators were to work as a partnership, they
could work together to recommend proper security measures to the
school board after a survey took place.
“He goes to the facility and he gives them a written report,” Weitzel
said. “Then, both of us—the police and the [integrator]—will institute
the recommendations that your school board approves, but we’ll
do it as a partnership.”
So, what’s the hold-up? Why hasn’t this partnership idea already
progressed to a place of paramount security? Weitzel said delays to
these alliances can reside in the finances of smaller communities or
even the egos of those involved.
Some bigger, metropolitan communities have already begun to
work on these partnerships, but many smaller, suburban community
police departments fight back because they don’t believe they can
afford the equipment these security integrators provide, thus preventing
a partnership. Weitzel said this is false, and many individuals are
so willing to partner that they will help you to obtain available grants.
All the materials to obtain a grant are out there for the department to
take advantage of, Weitzel said, and integrators are financially incentivized
to help law enforcement obtain them.
One of the other ways smaller, suburban departments might resist
a partnership is by saying that they’re understaffed, or they don’t have
the expertise necessary. Weitzel said this isn’t an excuse but rather, an
excellent reason for the partnership to take place, as the integrators
are well equipped to assist the department.
“The small, suburban departments a lot of times say they don’t
have the money, they don’t have the expertise, or they’re understaffed,”
Weitzel said. “Well, this is where the [integrators] can help
you. In most of the cases, they’re not understaffed. In some cases,
they’re willing to do the leg work up from with you for no extra cost,
or it’s part of the entire package they submit to the school district.”
He said the best way for departments to approach this partnership is
by being clear with their intentions, and by leveling the playing
ground between the integrator by making it clear that they won’t
patronize them if the integrator will do the same.
“I think that the best way to go about it is to approach them collaboratively
and say ‘I don’t really want you to be a integrator. I want
you to partner with me—I want you to partner for school security, so
we’re both on the same level," Weitzel said. "I’m not talking down to
you, you’re not talking down to me, we’re actual partners.’”
Weitzel shared his belief that ego is likely preventing this partnership
from happening. He said sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in
your level of authority and forget the reason for the position. It's
much more beneficial to work together to make a plan for the community,
rather than each organization thinking they’re more important,
The first step in combating these egos is taking a step down, Weitzel
said, and realizing the departments are equals who have different
strengths and are not competing but completing. Once these departments
and integrators have built a successful partnership, hey can be
an example for others to show them how beneficial it is to work
together. Once the program is built out, it can be demonstrated to
other municipalities and cities, showing them how it worked for
them, and it can work for others too, Weitzal added.
“I don’t care who gets the credit,” Weitzel said. “My only goal is to
serve my residents and especially these young children that go to our
schools. The parents have no interest in who made it secure, they just
want the facility to be secure and the police response to be right.”
Training the Integrator
Weitzel said another way the partnership could be formed from day
one is by opening up resource trainings to security integrators. The
trainings can go as long as three months, which would really give
police officers and integrators the chance to bond on a deeper level
early on and understand the other's approach to security.
Weitzel said that, as always, the public should be the first priority,
and in this case, these partnerships would be immediately beneficial
to the public. That's why the change needs to happen now, he said.
“You have to put the public first, and in this case, you have to put
the school students first,” Weitzel said. “Let’s partner, and let’s just do
this together for our schools and our children that go to those
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.
Kaitlyn DeHaven is the Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.