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Metal Detectors
January 2021


What does the research say about the effect of metal detectors and staff identification on creating a safe school environment?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Addington, L. (2018). The use of visible security measures in public schools: A review to summarize current literature and guide future research. American University School of Public Affairs Research Paper No. 3240204. Washington, DC: American University. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Concerns over school violence, particularly deadly school violence, have prompted demands for greater attention to student safety and school security. One response has been an increased use of visible security in public schools in all locations and grade levels. Relatively little, though, is known about the effectiveness of these measures to reduce crime and violence as well as their possible unintended consequences. This article provides a review of the literature concerning trends in the use of visible school security as well as the effect of these measures on specific outcomes including crime, student fear and exclusionary discipline. This review aims to facilitate future research and policy by identifying what is known, what gaps exist and what should be considered in developing a future research agenda to inform policy."

Bachman, R., Randolph, A., & Brown, B. L. (2011). Predicting perceptions of fear at school and going to and from school for African American and White students: The effects of school security measures. Youth & Society, 43(2), 705–726. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This article uses the School Crime Supplement of the National Crime Victimization Survey to investigate the factors related to White and African American students' perceived levels of fear of harm, while at school and while commuting to and from school. Of particular interest were the effects of school security measures, including metal detectors, security guards, locked doors, and surveillance cameras. After controlling for the effects of previous victimizations, security measures, and other contextual and demographic variables, there were no differences in levels of fear across gender and race groups. However, certain predictors of fear differentially affected White and African American students. Previous victimization experiences, including bullying, and the presence of metal detectors increased levels of fear for all groups. Security guards in schools increased levels of fear for White students but not for African American students. African American students attending school in suburban and rural areas were more fearful compared to their central city counterparts, whereas White students were more fearful if they attended school in urban areas. Implications for policy are discussed"

Bracy, N. L. (2011). Student perceptions of high-security school environments. Youth & Society, 43(1), 365–395. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Public schools have transformed significantly over the past several decades in response to concerns about rising school violence. Today, most public schools are high-security environments employing police officers, security cameras, and metal detectors, as well as strict discipline policies to keep students in line and maintain safe campuses. These changes undoubtedly influence the social climate of schools, yet we know very little about how students experience and perceive these measures. Via ethnographic research in two contemporary public high schools, the author examines students' perceptions of high-security school environments, including perceptions of their school resource officer, schools' discipline policies, punishments, and fairness in rule application. Findings show that students believe their schools to be safe places and think many of the security strategies their schools use are unnecessary. Students further express feeling powerless as a result of the manner in which their schools enforce rules and hand down punishments."

Fisher, B. W., Gardella, J. H., & Tanner-Smith, E. E. (2019). Social control in schools: The relationships between school security measures and informal social control mechanisms. Journal of School Violence, 18(3), 347-361.

From the Abstract:
"Social control and procedural justice theories indicate that informal social control reduces problem behaviors. However, many schools have implemented formal control mechanisms such as school security measures. This study examines the association between school security measures (security personnel, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras) and students' perceptions of informal social control (relationships with teachers, other school adults, and the fairness and consistency of school rules). We used structural equation modeling to examine these relationships in a nationally representative sample of 6,547 secondary students surveyed as part of the School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (M age = 14.94; 51% male, 60% White non-Hispanic, 14% Black non-Hispanic, 20% Hispanic). The results indicated that the presence of security personnel in schools was associated with poorer student relationships with teachers. Findings for the other school security measures were nonsignificant or inconsistent across models. Implications for theory and practice are discussed."

Fisher, B. W., Mowen, T. J., & Boman, J. H. (2018). School security measures and longitudinal trends in adolescents’ experiences of victimization. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47(6), 1221–1237. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Although school security measures have become a common fixture in public schools across the United States, research on the relationship between security and adolescent victimization is mixed, with very few studies examining trends in adolescent victimization across time. Using two waves of data from the Educational Longitudinal Study 2002 (N = 7659; 50.6% female; 56.7% White, 13.3% Black, 13.5% Hispanic, 11.3% Asian American, 5.4% other race), results from a series of multi-level models demonstrate that adolescents in schools with more security measures report higher odds of being threatened with harm, and no difference in odds of being in a physical altercation or having something stolen over time. Although prior research has established racial disparities in using school security measures, results demonstrate inconsistent patterns in the extent to which adolescents’ race conditions the relationship between security and victimization. The findings are discussed in light of existing theoretical and empirical work, and implications for both research and practice are offered."

Gastic, B. (2011). Metal detectors and feeling safe at school. Education and Urban Society, 43(4), 486–498. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This article argues that metal detectors bestow an organizational stigma to schools. One symptom of this is students' heightened level of fear at school. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and a matched-pair design, this study finds that metal detectors are negatively correlated with students' sense of safety at school, net of the level of violence at school. However, this association is different for urban students. The negative association between metal detectors and urban students' sense of safety is 13% less than what it is for students attending suburban or rural schools."

Hankin, A., Hertz, M., & Simon, T. (2011). Impacts of metal detector use in schools: Insights from 15 years of research. Journal of School Health, 81, 100–106. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Background: Multiple approaches exist, both in theory and in practice, to reduce young people's risk of violent victimization when they are in school. Among these approaches, a growing number of school districts are choosing to install metal detectors. We sought to review the literature available on the impacts of metal detectors on school violence and perceptions about school violence. Methods: We conducted an extensive literature search, including databases for the medical, public health, sociology, and political science literature. Of 128 papers that met our search criteria, 7 studies met inclusion criteria for the literature review. Results: Each of the papers reviewed utilized data that originated from self-report surveys. Four of the studies consisted of secondary analyses of national databases, with the other 3 utilizing local surveys. The studies varied as to the outcome, ranging from student/staff perceptions of safety at school to student self-reports of weapon carrying and/or victimization, and showed mixed results. Several studies suggested potential detrimental effects of metal detectors on student perceptions of safety. One study showed a significant beneficial effect, linking metal detector use to a decrease in the likelihood that students reported carrying a weapon while in school (7.8% vs 13.8%), without a change in weapon carrying in other settings or a decline in participation in physical fights. Conclusion: There is insufficient data in the literature to determine whether the presence of metal detectors in schools reduces the risk of violent behavior among students, and some research suggests that the presence of metal detectors may detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety."

Jennings, W. G., Khey, D. N., Maskaly, J., & Donner, C. M. (2011). Evaluating the relationship between law enforcement and school security measures and violent crime in schools. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, 11(2), 109–124. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"School crime is a vital concern, not only for students and faculty, but for administrators, policy makers, criminal justice personnel, and concerned citizens. Efforts to reduce crime and violence at schools have led many schools to adopt preventative strategies aimed at reducing actual crime and fear of crime. These measures include partnering with local police departments and implementing school resource officers, installing video cameras and closed circuit television systems, utilizing weapon-detection systems (e.g., metal detectors), and blocking/restricting access to school facilities with entry-control devices (e.g., electronic key cards). Recognizing these efforts and the limitations of prior research investigating school crime and safety measures, the current study examined the relationship between law enforcement (public or private) and school security measures on the incidence of violence and serious violence in schools using a nationally representative sample. Several key findings emerged. In particular, employing student resource officers and dealing with problems of bullying, racial tensions, student disrespect, and gangs appear promising in mitigating problems on high school campuses across the United States."

Mowen, T. J., & Freng, A. (2019). Is more necessarily better? School security and perceptions of safety among students and parents in the United States. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 44(3), 376–394. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The use of security measures within schools has increased dramatically over the past few decades. These proliferations are often touted by teachers, school administrators, politicians, and the public as necessary for improving student safety. Though research in this area is growing, we know little about how increased use of school security measures relates to both student and parental perceptions of school safety. Using data from wave one of the 2002 Educational Longitudinal Study, the current study investigates the relationship between the use of security measures in schools and student and parent assessments of safety. Findings from multi-level models indicate that school security measures are, generally, related to decreased perceptions of safety by both parents and students. Implications of these findings are addressed."

Schildkraut, J., & Grogan, K. (2019). Are metal detectors effective at making schools safer? San Francisco: WestEd.

From the Abstract:
"With the tragedies of school violence igniting calls for increased safety and security, one popular proposal is to use metal detectors in schools. To address questions about what impact such devices may have on day-to-day safety and on what happens during school violence events, this research brief summarizes what is known about metal detectors in schools and in other settings. The brief discusses: (1) The prevalence of metal detectors in schools; (2) The (in)effectiveness of metal detectors; (3) The cost associated with employing metal detectors; and (4) The potential impact on students and the learning environment as a whole. This is the third brief in the WestEd Justice and Prevention Research Center's "School Safety" series."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: ("Metal detectors" OR "metal detector"), ("Identification badge" OR "identification badges" OR "id badges" OR "id badge" OR "access badges" OR "access badge"), ("School safety" OR "safe schools" OR "safe learning environment" OR ("safe learning environments")

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.