WEAPONS IN SCHOOLS: Knives reported as most common weapon found in Maine schools
PORTLAND (WGME) – A Good Day Maine investigation into the number of weapons found in Maine schools discovered knives are the most common, specified weapon confiscated from students.
CBS 13 requested the number of weapons found on school grounds over the last 10 years from 31 school districts in Central and Southern Maine. 26 districts responded in a months time.
WHAT WE FOUND
In all, our sample found 872 incidents of weapons found in schools, including 22 firearms. However, most schools that reported firearms specified that they were actually toy guns or pellet guns. Maine law states firearms are illegal on school property, but many districts also extend that to toy guns and pellet guns.
We have compiled the data we collected through Maine’s Freedom of Access Act in the spreadsheet below:
Many of the districts did not specify the type of weapon involved in an incident, and while schools are required to report weapons incidents to the Maine Department of Education, what defines a weapon can vary district-to-district. There is no uniform, statewide weapons policy.
Sanford Superintendent David Theoharides says they typically define a weapon as firearms (including toy guns and bb guns), knives, fireworks, or any item used to harm or intimidate another person.
“A pen could be a weapon if you stick someone with a pen,” Theoharides said.
BRINGING WEAPONS, BUT NOT GETTING CAUGHT
As Good Day Maine analyzed the number of weapons found in 26 school districts, we also looked at students who brought weapons to school and weren't caught.
A study from the National Center for Education Statistics looks at a portion of public high school students nationwide, who reported carrying a weapon on school property at least one day in the last 30 days.
According to the study, in 2005, 5.9% of Maine students surveyed admitted to carrying a knife, gun or club on school property in the last 30 days. In 2011 that number jumped to 8% and in 2015 it went back down to 5.8%.
Across the country, the highest percentage we found as 11.5% in Wyoming in 2009. That's more than one out of 10 students surveyed who say they brought a weapon on school property.
Sanford Superintendent David Theoharides says it is possible some students are bringing weapons on the property and not being caught.
"Students, I mean, they could bring pretty much anything into school most days," Theoharides says, "We don't have metal detectors at the doors or things like that. It's really the intent, why they bring it in, that's what makes the difference. A kid brings in a pocket knife because it's grandpa's pocket knife and it makes him feel comfortable and he leaves it in his backpack, no one would ever know."
TRACKING AND FINDING WEAPONS IN SCHOOLS
Since schools track the number of weapons incidents, it is public information, and Theoharides says he would make it available to parents if asked. However, schools are required by federal law to protect student privacy, so while Theoharides says he’d provide the number of weapons, he would not include the student’s name or their punishment.
“I can't give out any identifying information,” he said.
How schools share the data with parents will vary depending on the district. In our experience, some districts, like Brunswick, only listed the number of weapons incidents by year, providing no additional information. Other districts like Biddeford, were much more detailed – giving us dates and the description of the offense.
Portland schools provided a total number of weapons incidents (56) and a summary of what those included. Superintendent Xavier Botana says they've had several firearms found over the last 10 years, and they’ve also classified water bottles, a piece of wood, and matches as a weapon.
All the educators we spoke with for this report, told us students bring weapons to school for a variety of reasons. Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster says sometimes students bring weapons if they’re being bullied, but he says, often it’s because they want to show off.
“Usually, we find out about it from other students,” Webster said. “Students that bring something like that to school often are trying to impress their friends, They want to show off and invariably word gets to an adult.”
THE ROLE OF SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS
That's where school resource officers, or SROs, come in.
"Every school building in this country could benefit from a properly selected, properly trained SRO, there's no question about that," says Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers or NASRO.
NASRO provides training to school-based law enforcement officers and has more than 3,000 members around the world. The association developed a triad concept of school-based policing, which divides the SRO responsibilities into three areas: teacher, informal counselor and law enforcement officer. Canady says it's critical to start building relationships early.
"I started my SRO career in elementary schools," Canady says, "And what was interesting is as those students grew into our middle schools and into our high schools, that foundation in the relationship was already there."
According to NASRO, no one knows how many school resource officers there are in the U.S. because they are not required to register with a national database. Based on a 2015 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 30% of public schools who participated incidicated they had at least one full time or part time SRO during the 2013-2014 academic year. That means the overwhelming majority of those who took part in the survey did not have any school resource officers.