NCPC's President and CEO, Ms. Ann M. Harkins, was invited to speak at the D.C. Committee on Education's public oversight roundtable on "School Safety and Emergency Preparedness in the District of Colombia." Public witnesses included Dr. Joseph Wright from the Children's National Medical Center, the Director of Public Policy of Safe Kids Worldwide, and the heads of a two local schools. Her testimony, given to the D.C. Councilmembers and the Committee Record, focused on the importance of improving school safety through preventive methods like Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and NCPC's Be Safe and Sound in Schools model.
Good morning. Thank you, Chairman Catania and members of the DC Council Committee on Education, for the opportunity to address the committee today.
I am Ann Harkins, President and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), an organization which has provided practical information on proven and cost-effective crime prevention practices to local law enforcement, schools, community leaders and citizens for more than thirty years.
NCPC is a private, non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, whose primary mission is to be the nation’s leader in helping people keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe from crime. Through a variety of media and methods, NCPC enables communities and law enforcement to work together to create safe environments, especially for children and youth. Many of our crime prevention initiatives have featured our beloved icon McGruff the Crime Dog® and his signature message that beckons all Americans to “Take a Bite Out of Crime®.” McGruff and his message have an aided recognition rate of 83 percent among adult Americans and more than 80 percent of kids would follow his advice on crime prevention. Over 90 percent of adults describe McGruff as informative, trustworthy, and effective.
Since the inception of NCPC, we have maintained a close working partnership with local law enforcement across the country and have worked with many schools nationwide to launch groundbreaking and comprehensive support initiatives for crime-besieged cities, provide technical assistance, bring them cost-effective and award-winning public service advertising, produce and distribute hundreds of ready-to-use publications filled with practical tips, expand the reach of crime prevention tools through online resources, conduct conferences and training, and more.
It is important to note that schools are the safest places for our children when away from home. But schools can and should be safer—places where students learn and develop without fear of injury or violence. Several occurrences of violence in and around the school environment in recent years have directly affected our children’s sense of security. These events have drawn attention to the need for strengthening education about school safety and bullying, as well as the need for our communities to get involved. Incidents like the shooting that occurred in a Nevada middle school yesterday, a lone gunman opening fire on teachers and students in a Connecticut elementary school last December, and reports of students bringing firearms to school directly jeopardize parents’ and students’ perceptions of a safe school environment.
In a 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly six per cent (5.9%) of the 9th through 12th graders participating in the survey responded that they did not go to school on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the study because they did not feel safe at school or on their way to school.
Parents and school administrators alike want to ensure that every school environment provides the necessary support and safety for our children. The recent number of school shootings we have witnessed as a nation challenge all of us to do better. School administrators have a unique perspective of safety and security within their schools. And the manner in which they address safety concerns, communicate with parents, and involve local law enforcement and other stakeholders—including students and staff—in these efforts has an impact on the overall well-being of children and their sense of security.
The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence reported more than two dozen types of direct victimizations upon youth known by authorities. Such incidences as bullying (22%), relational aggression (51.5%), and bias attacks (52.5%) are an indication of the breadth of safety issues children face when at school. Sadly, we have seen these acts of victimization lead some young people to resort to retaliation with weapons or to harm themselves by committing suicide. At NCPC, we have studied the effects of bullying first hand and research has shown that bullying has lasting negative consequences (decreased self-esteem, lower academic performance, anti-social behavior, future criminal behavior) that not only affect the victim but also the bystanders who observe the incidents.
NCPC strives to educate young people about how to stay safe and engage them in making their schools and neighborhoods safer. For the committee today, I will focus on two important initiatives from the National Crime Prevention Council. NCPC’s first program is called Be Safe and Sound in Schools (B3S) – providing the resources to increase safety and build a more respectful, caring school climate. Through Be Safe and Sound, school administrators, parents, students, and law enforcement officers join forces to identify issues, such as violence, bullying, vandalism, and drug use that threaten safety at school. Together, they plot a course of action to address those issues and implement activities such as installing locks or security cameras, training students and staff, and conducting outreach campaigns in the community. Be Safe and Sound in School builds safer schools through the inclusion of diverse perspectives, data-driven plans, and customized solutions. B3S combines Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles with action plans to promote a culture of respect (CPTED discussed below).
And, a few, short years ago, NCPC set out to work on a new crime prevention initiative that would “inspire us to live in ways that embody respect… where we live, learn, work and play.” That is our vision for the Circle of Respect. Lack of respect is contributing to physical and online aggression that we know as bullying and cyberbullying. However, a lack of respect is also contributing to this problem of school violence and many other conflicts among our young people. The Circle of Respect is a national initiative that engages and challenges children, young people, adults, families, and communities to promote a culture of respect that transcends what has been a traditional tolerance of unacceptable behavior. As the circle expands from respect for self to respect in other aspects of our lives, we can reduce the opportunities for crime to occur.
As part of the program, NCPC created the Caregivers Guide to School Safety, a 24-page pamphlet, to give parents information on safety issues facing children and tips for keeping children safe. In addition, NCPC was able to provide ten grants, with the funding support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice, to schools in need across the country. I share below just two comments from school principals with whom we had the pleasure of working on the B3S program.
“We decreased disciplinary referrals by 75 percent after implementing strategies to reduce fighting, bullying, and vandalism.”
B3S Charter School Principal
“We had no idea bullying was so pervasive in our school. The B3S assessment brought to light how bullying was affecting a large number of our students. Now that we know about the problem, we can act. We are looking at bullying prevention strategies to use in school and ways to educate parents. And we reached out to elementary schools to stop bullying before things get out of hand.”
B3S Middle School Principal
All threats are NOT created equal. The best prevention against school violence involves addressing the causes and contributing factors.
- Create environments that discourage violent conduct
- Educate the community about safety and security concerns
- Improve unsafe locations where assaults could occur
- Train staff on how to diffuse potential emergency situations
- Learn to identify and intercept the problems’ causes, such as social disagreements, bullying, and mental illness
- Create comprehensive plans and protocols that are practiced often by staff and students
- Encourage prompt reporting of students in crisis or activities of concern
A key way for schools to deter violence is called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED. It is defined as the proper design and effective use of the built environment that can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidents of crime, and an improvement in the quality of life.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design uses four key principles:
1. Access Control
- Guides people entering and leaving a space through the placement of entrances, exits, fences, landscaping and lighting.
- Can decrease opportunities for criminal activity by denying criminals access to potential targets and creating a perception of risk for would-be offenders.
- Uses design features to increase the visibility of a property or building.
- Provides the opportunity to challenge inappropriate behavior or report it to school administrator or the police.
- Maximizes the potential to deter crime by making the offender’s behavior more easily noticeable to a passing individual, police patrol, or private security detail.
3. Territorial Reinforcement
- Created by using landscaping, pavement designs, decorative gateways, signs, and fences.
- Defines property lines and clear distinctions between private and public spaces or school grounds.
- Signals that a location or facility is well cared for and therefore would be inhospitable to a criminal.
- Ensures proper upkeep (mowing grass, trimming trees and landscaping, picking up trash, repairing broken windows and light fixtures, and painting over graffiti).
- Signals that an owner, manager, or neighbor is watching out for the property and could spot illegal behavior.
Prevention works best when it is a habit – not just a door lock but a locked door. It works best when those leading the effort communicate to encourage informed and smart prevention behavior rather than perpetuating ignorance or overconfidence. By taking comprehensive security measures—including monitoring visitors, cameras, panic buttons and access control systems—administrators will be better able to spot trouble and students will be less likely to break the rules.
Five best practices for making your school safer and more secure:
- Make security a top priority
- Build strong relationships with local law enforcement officials
- Control school access to visitors
- Review design and landscaping of outdoor areas to remove obstructed views
- Encourage students and parents to take a proactive approach to school safety
Acts of aggression, property crime, and violence are taking place in schools every day – distracting kids from learning and robbing them of their innocence. While our community may have been spared from headline-catching incidents of school violence, none of us should become complacent.
Building, maintaining, and improving relationships is the key to success. Everyone must come together, be at the table, strategize together, and address the issues occurring in the community and in each school community. No one person can do it alone. No one organization can do it alone. No one school can do it alone. We need partners in government, law enforcement, the private sector, in neighborhoods, and among each school’s population. Each school community must bring together all of those who know the problem, care about the problem, and can solve the problem.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behaviors Surveillance – United States, 2011. MMWR Surveillance Summaries 2012, 61 (no. SS-4). www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6104.pdf
 Finklehor, David, Richard Ormrod, Heather Turner, and Sherry Hamby. “Children and Youth Victimization Known to Police, School, and Medical Authorities.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin, April 2012. Office of Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice: Washington, DC. http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/235394.pdf
 Adams, Frank D. and Gloria J. Lawrence. “Bullying Victims: The Effects Last Into College.” American Secondary Education, Fall 2011.