Charleston County high schools to add weapons detectors to security measures

The Charleston County School District Board of Trustees authorized the district to purchase weapons detectors for all high schools in the district.
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 2:40 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2022 at 6:34 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District Board of Trustees authorized the district to purchase weapons detectors for all high schools in the district.

Michael Reidenbach, the Charleston County School District’s executive director of security and emergency management, said they will work with schools over the next few weeks and months to determine the best way to deploy the devices.

What makes them different from traditional metal detectors is that they are intended to specifically detect weapons, primarily firearms, and they’re a lot quicker and more efficient to operate. Weapons detectors allow you to keep most of your belongings in your pocket and even in your bag.

“If you go into a school that’s using these devices today, you see that it really looks a lot different than you would see in an airport or traditionally in other government buildings when everybody’s emptying their pockets and taking off belts and things like that,” he said.

For the most part, Reidenbach said students should just be able to freely walk through, which makes it less intrusive.

The weapons detectors will cost $1.2 million to purchase, but keeping them running year after year could cost up to $2.9 million a year.

Reidenbach said this is just one additional layer in addition to all of the other security measures to help keep schools safe. He said they still want to have their threat assessment protocol, develop positive school climates and cultures within schools, and encourage students to report information to them when they learn about potential threats to the school.

“When we look at developing a physical security plan for our schools, we look to layer various security measures on top of each other to try to provide various checkpoints or various opportunities for us to catch potential risks from coming into our schools,” Reidenbach said. “And so certainly a metal detector or a weapons detector is an opportunity to increase our risk of being able to detect things like firearms from coming into the school but also and perhaps more importantly deterring individuals from bringing a firearm.”

While a big step, Reidenbach said there is still more to do.

“This doesn’t end now,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do and we’ll continue to discuss new and evolving things that come around.”

The Board of Trustees also approved a recommendation to use money the district allocates for vacant school resource officer positions to fund private, armed security until law enforcement can fully staff those positions.

While the district will slowly implement weapon detectors across the county, one Charleston high school started using them at the beginning of the year. James Island Charter High School purchased a similar, but different system earlier this year and started using them in August. Principal Timothy Thorn says the speed at which they can screen students makes the system much more practical than a metal detector.

“These devices screen over 4,000 people in an hour,” Thorn said. “We don’t have that many students so we can easily screen all of our students. Most students can walk through without even breaking stride.”

Even early in the school year, students were getting the hang of things very quickly, removing rod-shaped items, like umbrellas, and certain electronics like laptops that are notorious for setting off the detectors. Junior C.J. Daniels says he hardly notices the extra security measures.

“I think it’s fine. I mean, it’s needed,” Daniels said. “If you have certain things in your bag, like a binder or something, you have to take it out and you just go through the line and you’ll be cool.”

Thorn had one of his student resource officers walk through the detectors. The towers turned red and beeped, then highlighted on a small display the area on the body where a prohibited object was detected. The display also indicated the object detected was the officer’s sidearm. If an item is in a backpack the displays would indicate whether or not it detected a gun, a knife or a variety of other objects.

Thorn says one of the best features of the detectors is that they aren’t as intrusive as traditional metal detectors.

“I don’t think it feels like you’re walking through something that is scary. It’s basically a couple towers and lights. It looks like it belongs in Star Wars so it doesn’t make it feel like a prison to go through these sensors,” Thorn said. “Being able to walk the halls and know that there aren’t guns or weapons in the school is an amazing feeling.”