Security chief says Quincy's public schools 'ahead of the curve'

Posted: Dec. 20, 2012 10:11 am Updated: Jan. 10, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Chief of Security Billy Meyer says the Quincy School District has a "very high level" of security compared with many other school systems in Illinois.

"I do believe we're ahead of the curve when it comes to other school districts," Meyer said during the Quincy School Board's monthly meeting Wednesday night in the round room at Baldwin Intermediate School.

Interim Superintendent Cal Lee asked Meyer to give a report about the district's security status in light of the mass shootings that took place last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children were among those gunned down by an intruder.

Meyer said the district has gradually stepped up its security efforts over the years after other highly publicized shooting incidents in schools across the country. The most aggressive steps were taken in 2006 when the district installed metal detectors and guards at the entrance to each school building.

"We have controlled access at all schools now," Meyer said. "We have a door-lock policy, which I think in and of itself has prevented a lot of issues."

He also said the district has been upgrading its security camera systems, conducts lockdown exercises routinely in schools and monitors about 120 registered sex offenders who live in the Quincy area.

Lee agreed Quincy's security team "goes above and beyond what most school districts do," particularly by having metal detectors and guards at the main entrances to schools.

Meyer said the school district "could do more" to enhance its security measures. Some needs on Meyer's wish list were spelled out in a confidential report given to board members Wednesday night. That list, for example, includes more telephones for school guards and computer monitors for electronic communication.

Meyer told board members that "the whole idea of security is to provide a deterrent. You want to place a number of obstacles to anybody who wants to come into your building to do harm to anybody, whether it's staff or students."

One big security issue facing Quincy's school buildings is an "architectural challenge," Meyer said.

"A lot of our buildings were built a long time ago -- and that's putting it politely -- when security and safety were not a major concern," he said. He noted that Quincy High School alone has 117 doors, each of which poses a potential security risk.

"We cannot hire 117 security guards to stand by each one of those doors," he said.

Likewise, Quincy Junior High School has 44 doors, he said.

"Any one day, at any one time, a pencil could be left in a door, or another student could let someone in a door that's unattended by that guard. So you can see we have a big job," Meyer said.

"We're doing our very best to keep a lid on this thing. But our facilities even work against us. Somewhere down the line, when we start building new schools, we really need to consider the security standards" and take steps to make sure security risks are minimized.

Board member Steve Krause noted how even with locked doors, metal detectors and security guards, local schools remain at risk if a gunman is determined to cause harm inside a school.

"If you walk in and you take out the guard, you have full access to the building," Krause said.

Meyer said school officials need to take heed of that situation when drafting plans for any future school buildings. He said it may be necessary to erect a separate high-security "control room" where visitors would be screened before they are allowed to step inside a school building.

"Are our schools going to have to do something like that?" Meyer asked. "Possibly. That may be a consideration we have to give down the line when we build new schools."