The Impact of the Economic Downturn on School Safety and Security

photo: sign on school fence reading "drug-free, gun-free school zone"Last month the COPS Office published a report entitled “The Impact of the Economic Downturn on American Police Agencies” that focused on the ways in which law enforcement agencies have been affected by the change in economic climate, as well as the measures they are taking to respond to them. As a follow-up to the report, this article examines the similar ways in which school safety and security are affected by the current economy.

The COPS Office report found that severe cuts were being made to police agencies’ operating budgets nationwide, which are forcing many agencies to drastically change their methods of service delivery and, for many, are requiring them to make severe reductions to their staffing levels. Many of the same trends and patterns that were presented in the analysis of police agencies are mirrored when examining the effects felt by school safety officers.

Budget cuts have had a profound effect on school safety and security in recent years, forcing administrators to reduce these staff and programs, restructure security departments, and develop alternative ways to maintain a high level of safety and security within their schools.1 Just as the general public expects law enforcement to maintain the high levels of public safety within communities despite the loss of resources, the same expectations apply to school safety.

A 2010 survey conducted by The Center for School Preparedness, a department within the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the Department of Education, examined the ways in which schools are currently working to ensure school safety in light of their limited or extreme budget constraints.  Similar to what was reflected in the COPS Office report, the survey respondents identified the ways in which the budget reductions are affecting their safety and security within their schools.

  • Many schools are reporting widespread layoffs and extensive cuts of school resource officers.
  • Furlough days were reported, but were seen as a temporary fix to a problem that would likely result in lay-offs if adequate funding levels are not restored.
  • A number of school police agencies reported that budget cuts to their security departments were so severe that they “ceased to operate.”

Survey respondents expressed uncertainty regarding how they will be able to adequately address such severe cuts to their budgets. The majority felt that the only option was to cut staffing and programs and attempt to mitigate these losses through:2

  • Program and departmental reorganization
  • Increased staff training and collaborative efforts
  • Innovative use of technology
  • Identification of alternative funding sources

Some school police agencies are being forced to reorganize departments and job responsibilities in order to make up for lost staff, while some school districts are focusing their security resources on those schools which are deemed “high priority.” Others have begun cross-training staff members to perform a variety of duties they previously weren’t responsible for, in order to bridge the gap in staffing.

One of the cost-saving strategies identified in examining the ways municipal police agencies are combating reductions in resources was the institutionalization of the community policing philosophy into their organizational management. Through collaboration and partnerships with community members and organizations, police agencies are finding ways to cuts costs and build relationships with the communities they serve. These same methods are important for school safety officials. Survey respondents reported collaborating not only with community partners, but also with other schools and local districts to conduct joint trainings and share available resources.3

Another technique seen in police agencies and school districts alike is the increased utilization of innovative technology sources. Leveraging resources such as security surveillance systems provides a way for school safety officials to monitor activities while reducing the reliance on security personnel. Other districts are using web-based technologies as a means to provide resources and support to staff without the additional costs associated with printing materials and on-site trainings.

In cases where budget cuts did not affect school security and safety initiatives directly, many respondents felt that cuts made in others areas within their schools negatively affected their schools’ “perceived level of safety.”4 Some school districts have taken cost saving measures such as turning off outdoor lighting in the evenings as a way to reduce electricity costs, but have seen increases in vandalism and burglary as a result. Further, personnel cuts in other positions such as school counselors, nurses, psychologists, and teachers have had a negative impact because of the roles these professionals play in maintaining a healthy and positive school environment while also preventing potential hazards and security threats.5

In an article written by Kenneth Trump, President of the National School Safety and Security Services, a national consulting firm, he highlights a number of factors that contribute to the “perfect storm” that many school districts throughout the nation are facing:

  • The elimination of the Title IV state grant component of the federal Safe and Drug-Free schools program—effective July 1, 2010—has resulted in the elimination of entire programs that have provided a framework for school safety and prevention efforts.
  • While local education agencies are already facing cuts to budgets as a result of declining local revenues, the loss of federal funding becomes increasingly detrimental to school safety and administration.

Trump notes that cuts to prevention and security programs are often made without the proper consideration of the long-term impacts. He explains:

[E]liminating a drug or violence prevention program, or perhaps security or school police officers, will save dollars today. But an increase in violent incidents because of reduced safety forces could result in increased costs for insurance and legal settlements down the road. Replacing in-house school security staff and school resource officers with private security guards may save dollars today, but this decision could create lower standards and a diminished quality of safety services in the future.6

Further, Trump notes that assuming prevention, security, police, and other safety programs can be shifted entirely to outside agencies without an adverse impact is unrealistic. Such assumptions shift school safety from a proactive to a retroactive model. Many districts are relying on local police agencies to be able to step in, but fail to recognize that these agencies are facing similar programmatic budget cuts and reduced resources.

Overall, the challenges that are currently facing American police agencies are also affecting school safety and security officials. While many school officials feel as though the future contains unforeseeable effects on school security and safety as a result of constricting budgets, reorganization and collaboration efforts are undoubtedly going to play a role in the ways in which school districts nationwide handle the allocation of their remaining resources.

For more information please visit the National School Safety and Security Services webpage at www.schoolsecurity.org.


1 Eisele-Dyrli, Kurt. 2010. “School Safety Gets the Ax: Districts are struggling to maintain safety and security when budgets are cut.” District Administration Magazine September. www.districtadministration.com/article/special-report-state-security-school-safety-gets-ax

2 “List Serve Summary Issue- Specific Report on School Security Budget Cuts.” 2010. www.schoolsecurity.org/trends/School-Security-Budget-Cuts-US-DOE-June-2010.pdf

3 Ibid.

4 Eisele-Dyrli, Kurt. 2010. “School Safety Gets the Ax: Districts are struggling to maintain safety and security when budgets are cut.” District Administration Magazine September. www.districtadministration.com/article/special-report-state-security-school-safety-gets-ax.

5 Ibid.

6 Trump, Kenneth. 2010. “Keeping Schools Safe During Tight Budget Times.” District Administration. September. www.districtadministration.com/article/special-report-state-security-keeping-schools-safe-during-tight-budget-times.

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