Safety grant applications reveal school security needs across Arizona

Arizona school districts submitted federal grant explications for money to fix security and they reveal the cash needed to help secure campuses.
Updated: Sep. 15, 2022 at 6:00 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Locks that don’t actually lock, outdated communications systems and no funding for security guards. Those are three examples of security needs revealed in a handful of US Justice Department grant applications obtained by Arizona’s Family Investigates.

The grants were all approved and funded by the federal government, but they offer a snapshot of the safety concerns and needs of school districts across Arizona. And they come at a time when gunfire incidents on school campuses in the United States appear to be increasing.

The grant application submitted by officials from the Cartwright School District, located in west Phoenix, offers a stark example of what teachers, students and staff face. The application states, “Students and faculty regularly hear gunshots while in class.” Between 2017 and 2021, Cartwright experienced seven incidents of student firearm possession on campus.

According to the organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, schools across the US saw 202 incidents of gunfire on campus last year. That resulted in 49 deaths and 126 injuries.

The mass shooting in May at a grade school in Uvalde, Texas, served as an example of a worst-case scenario of what could happen. A lone gunman murdered 19 students and two teachers. “It was a wake up call to us that this type of thing can happen anywhere,” said Mike Pooley, the Apache Junction police chief.

AJPD held a series of active shooter drills over the summer. One took place at a school with children acting as victims. Pooley says these drills are critical because during a real situation, officers need to rely on their training. “It is an eye-opener. Especially in places you’ve never heard of. School districts where you’d never think something like this would happen. These aren’t big cities. These are outskirts small towns where these things are happening,” said Pooley.

Last week, Phoenix police responded to a call of shots fired at Central High School. As a result, four schools were locked down while police went from building to building, searching for victims and a shooter.

It turned out to be a false alarm. “There was no hesitation. We train for this. We prepare for this,” said one of Phoenix’s assistant police chiefs that evening.

The Justice Department school violence grant applications show the concerns about violence, and the need for funding for tools to prevent that violence, extend beyond the Phoenix area. The Tucson Unified School District requested $393,000 for an updated communication system. Its grant application states the district’s antiquated radio system “Does not allow staff adequate communication between dispatch and officers in the field.”

In Yavapai County, the Humboldt District requested funds for construction to secure the entrances at five of its schools. The grant application also shows the district was asking for funding for five security guards.

At the Tempe Unified School District, officials requested $490,000 for new automatic locks. The application states, “Staff members have major concerns about the ability to lock down their classrooms in the event of an emergency or threat.”

Karl de la Guerra, a security consultant, spoke to Arizona’s Family Investigates said training personnel is as important as locks and communication systems. He said police departments and districts need to focus more on the school resource officers or security personnel already on school campuses. “A police officer going to the scene has the opportunity to play that ‘What if’ game as they are responding. To the frontline responder, that looks like a luxury, because that frontline responder is the one facing that shooter as soon as they walk in the door,” said de la Guerra.