INDIANAPOLIS — Three years after the state distributed 3,436 handheld metal detectors to 422 school corporations, WRTV Investigates has uncovered most schools are not using them regularly, and people have mixed opinions on how useful the wands are.
Securing our schools is a hot topic in Indiana right now, especially in light of last month’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 students and 2 teachers dead.
After the Noblesville school shooting in 2018, the state of Indiana aimed to improve school safety and spent $352,718 in taxpayer money in 2019 on handheld metal detector wands.
WRTV Investigates is digging into how schools are using them and whether they’re finding them valuable.
“I’m saying a prayer as I put them on the bus”: Mother worries about school safety
Heather Hilbert is a Westfield mother of three children, two are in high school and one attends elementary school.
"I'm saying a prayer as I put them on the bus,” Hilbert said.
School safety is constantly on Hilbert’s mind, especially in light of the Robb Elementary School shooting.
“I know from my kids, this is their biggest fear is that someone will show up with a firearm and they won't know what to do,” Hilbert said. “That will be the last time they say goodbye to me in the morning, I have a nine year old that I have to answer questions to."
To improve school safety, the state distributed 3,436 handheld metal detectors to 422 school corporations back in 2019 for a total cost to taxpayers of $352,718.
In Westfield, where Hilbert’s children attend, the district received 27 of the metal detecting wands.
“If there is a specific report of someone having metal contraband, we might deploy a detector as a part of our investigation,” Westfield’s Communications Director Joshua Andrews said in an email to WRTV.
Hilbert, who is also a gun owner and volunteer for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, has mixed feelings on the use of handheld metal detectors in schools.
“I think these wands are a band-aid for a hemorrhaging crisis,” Hilbert said. “If a firearm arrives on a school campus, we've already failed students."
Handheld metal detectors in schools
You can search the database below to see how many handheld metal detectors your school district has.
Most schools not using wands regularly
WRTV Investigates surveyed more than three dozen school districts across central Indiana and asked if they’re still using the wands and if so, how.
Most corporations told us they do not use the metal detector wands daily.
But rather, most districts use the devices infrequently for special events like board meetings and after-prom parties, or if they suspect someone has a weapon or electronic cigarette on them.
For example, MSD of Wayne Township received 65 wands and currently uses them at sporting events and for a program called Safe Entry, in which they do occasional unannounced metal detecting as students enter school for the day.
Hamilton Southeastern Schools received 91 wands, more than any other district, but they tell us they’re not in use.
Emily Pace Abbotts, HSE’s director of school and community relations, said one reason they’re not using them is because metal detectors are not recommended to search for guns without armed back-up.
The Indiana School Resource Officers Association agrees.
“If you're using a wand to search for weapons, you should be using that next to a school resource officer or an armed safety personnel so they can assist you if there's a weapon present,” Chase Lyday, president of the Indiana School Resource Officers Association, said. “Wanding someone to discover a weapon and not having the tools to deal with that if it's used, is a safety issue in and of itself. "
You can search the database below to see how school districts responded to WRTV's questions.
Security expert questions value of handheld metal detectors
WRTV Investigates asked school security expert Jay Dotson to weigh in on whether the wands work.
“They work, but it's really kind of useless unless you have someone there all the time,” Dotson said. “You set up a situation where if someone wants to get in, they'll know when you're not going to be wanded. I'm not against the technology but if a business does that, they need to be sure that they have someone there all the time."
Dotson is a former Muncie Police Department reserve officer, owns a company that trains people on active shooter situations and worked as a subcontractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“Walk through metal detectors like the ones that you see at the airport might be a better idea,” Dotson said.
Dotson says the wands can actually create crowding and bottlenecking.
“Then you have vulnerable people in a large area,” Dotson said. “If someone was trying to hurt the children they could wait until children are standing outside."
Indianapolis Public Schools uses wands Monday-Friday
Central Indiana’s largest school district, Indianapolis Public Schools, uses handheld metal detectors Monday through Friday for random screenings.
“Numbers are drawn, so say every bus that ends in three would be directed to go through a metal detection or maybe all the walkers would be wanded,” IPS School Police Chief Tonia Guynn said.
The district received 50 wands from the state and also uses them at sporting and other events.
Guynn says they’ve found things like lighters and brass knuckles but have not found a gun with the handheld wand.
“Not with a handheld wand no,” Guynn said. “It's a deterrent that assists in finding things."
Guynn said the devices help people feel safer, and are only used when a police officer is present to assist.
“I think it's a great asset to adding security and helping people feel safe,” Guynn said. “It helps to find things we didn't intend to find or weren't looking for. "
IPS also uses walk-through metal detectors and school police — two things safety experts said they recommend for improving school security.
Some say metal detectors not enough
Hilbert says metal detecting wands aren’t enough to keep children safe.
Moms Demand Action has a program called Be Smart, which is aimed at safe storage of guns.
"We know 80 percent of the school shootings have gotten that firearm from their own home unsecured or someone that they know,” Hilbert said.
They’re working with state lawmakers on legislation aimed at promoting safe storage of guns in homes.
“I think when we talk about firearms from getting onto school grounds, really what we need to talk about is preventing them from getting there,” Hilbert said.