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Random searches at Clark County schools came up empty

Now that we’re over the whole drama of potentially losing Clark County School District middle- and high-school deans — an administrative position closely linked with school safety — let’s talk about another safety measure: random searches.

The random searches using wand-type metal detectors were launched in the district’s middle and high schools in November to help quell the tide of guns on campus — 23 handguns and 34 BB or air guns confiscated on campuses by the end of the school year.

But how many guns or knives did these 39 searches turn up in the roughly seven months they were being conducted?

Zero.

That doesn’t mean guns weren’t there. During that same time frame, school police found 36 firearms — 12 handguns and 24 BB or air guns, according to district data. Those discoveries were apparently the results of tips to school officials or observation. It’s unclear how many knives, if any, were found during that period.

Meanwhile, the district’s newer K-9 unit, which was sworn in in January, sniffed out one gun on school grounds at Clark High School.

School police didn’t begin routine random K-9 checks at schools until around the end of the school year, according to the district and police. The dogs have not found any guns at summer school, but they have proven themselves effective, however, when assisting other agencies such as Las Vegas police, according to school police.

The data, although limited, begs the question: Are these searches effective?

The Los Angeles Unified School District last month voted 4-3 to end its policy mandating random searches using wand metal detectors in its middle and high schools.

The vote came after the city attorney, in a school safety report, found that the searches were not effective in detecting weapons. The report cited district data that showed metal detectors accounted for only five of 385 knives and firearms confiscated on school grounds in 2016-17.

On the other hand, there’s no way to tell if the random searches have a deterrent effect. And I’ve spoken to enough scared students and freaked-out parents to understand that they might be helpful in calming fears.

Paige Richardson, an eighth-grader at Saville Middle School in Las Vegas, thinks the searches are preventing her classmates from bringing weapons to school.

“I believe it creates a safer environment, just knowing they’re checking just to make sure — even though they might not find anything,” she said.

And even though the searches are geared toward finding weapons, they could also deter the presence of drugs — like the kind Shadow Ridge High School senior Sam Bello says she has seen on campus.

Since the searches were announced, she said, she has seen fewer drug deals or students pulling out pocket knives.

But the searches don’t really make her feel any safer.

“I know kids are going to find a way no matter what to get what they want,” she said.

Obviously these safety measures are in their early stages, and a healthy analysis would include figures from multiple years.

As we embark on our second year of searches — and as the district figures out how to change its disciplinary structure to stem the school-to-prison pipeline — let’s see how the figures turn out.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey. On Education appears every other Saturday.

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