CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — The Clayton County school district is the latest to require clear backpacks for all of its students. It is doing this in effort to keep weapons off campuses. It joins Rockdale Schools in doing so.
But just how effective are they?
Are clear backpacks effective in keeping weapons out of schools?
- Thaddeus Johnson: Georgia State University criminal justice and criminology assistant professor
- Mac Hardy: Director of operations for the National Association of School Resource Officers. He's also a former teacher and school resource officer.
- Michael Dorn: Executive director for Safe Haven International, the world's largest K-12 school safety center. He is also a former police officer.
No, clear backpacks have not proven to keep weapons out of schools.
WHAT WE FOUND
"Clear bookbags are a well intended but relatively ineffective measure," said Dorn.
Our experts explained clear bookbags are not effective in keeping weapons out of schools, and that as a result, crime does not necessarily go down because of them.
"When it comes to crimes, clear bookbags probably weigh on the lower tier," explained Johnson. "A research paper in 2016, found that SRO's and clear bookbags were associated with the increases in school violence."
Both Hardy and Dorn explained they have witnessed students bringing in weapons into schools. Dorn even admitted to sneaking a weapon from 7th through senior year.
"I carried a weapon undetected, because I was scared to death. I was attacked with a box cutter in my school. I've never in 20 years as a police officer, including the times I got shot at, I was never as afraid," he said.
The three sources said that while the backpack may be clear, students still will be able to hide weapons inside.
"You can still hide a weapon inside of a cut out book, inside of clothing," Hardy explained.
"One of my older sons works with us and he did a video with a clear backpack, elementary school size, putting 26 weapons hidden in it, including a shotgun, 12 hand guns, and a hand grenade and knives. So the bookbag may be clear, but it's pretty easy to students will hollow out a book and put the weapon in the book or other contraband. They'll wrap the weapon in clothing or a tennis shoe," Dorn added.
There's a similar video on Dorn's non-profit page, showing how easy it is to hide weapons, regardless of having a clear backpack or not. His organization has worked with 8,500 K-12 schools - including many which have had active shooters - on how to improve their safety measures.
"After the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, prior to us coming in, they had tried clear bookbags. The students very quickly proved to them that they could smuggle contraband in and, you know, the superintendent then reversed course and said, okay, we're not going to require them," Dorn recalled.
Meanwhile, Johnson said that while clear bookbags could make you "feel" safer, you won't "be" safer.
"Would I bet the bank that clear bookbags will make a big dent in school safety? I wouldn't bet on it too much because many of these things originate or spill over into the community," he explained. "Even think about Buffalo, would a clear bag really have helped that? Absolutely not."
Instead, they say there should be a multi-faceted approach. More effective measures, include school safety teams and locking doors.
"Keep the perimeter doors locked, and keep our classroom doors locked when we're inside. I understand the inconvenience there. But it might save a life someday," Hardy said.
Surveillance video released this week of the Uvalde school shooting shows the gunman walking through the unlocked doors, with the gun in his hand.
Other important solutions include student supervision and requiring a dress code.
"The most important thing there is the beltline is visible, so you can't conceal a weapon," added Dorn.
Some school districts are also considering metal detectors to try to keep children safe.
However, the experts 11Alive talked to said that won't work very well either, especially in schools with many students because it's a slow process. They're also expensive.
The experts said it's all about what you do internally within the school, not necessarily the material policies, that will change the student environment.
"When I see schools that still have lead paint, I see schools that have deteriorating facilities, those things are far worse and have a far more negative impact on safety and health than the positive impacts you would get put in an SRO, or putting in a camera metal detection, or even having clear bookbag policies," Johnson added.