Matthew Ceder

Thinking Man,

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Pepper Spray in Schools, used by Security Guards. Good or Bad?

Today recently in City of Norfolk, Virginia. We have had a series of incidents being reported. Something like a phenomena. The local news has been reporting security officers using pepper spray on kids in middle school during certain altercations. In one incident it was a fight the security officer was trying to break up and another was a food fight in the cafeteria they were trying to contain. In both schools all kids involved in both incidents were sent to the school nurse and checked out okay, just some irritation from the spray. A letter was sent home to parents in both cases informing them of the incidents. Some locals and parents claimed relief and cheered the security guards for their actions, "this should be mandatory in all schools" some say. Some disagree. They say "children should not be exposed to such things that can cause harm and or fear".

Pepper spray is a legal and nonlethal self defense weapon also used by Police and Mailmen and are proven not to cause any lifelong issues. It also has a very good history in saving lives and neutralizing altercations. It does so well it is even available over the counter at most convenient stores.

The schools in Norfolk do permit the use of pepper spray in school. The employment status of both these guards are pending during investigation. Some argue their innocence and some argue their guilty. They are alleged to have used the pepper spray out of misconduct. What do you think?

Right now Norfolk public school's policy for use of pepper spray is under review. Should security guards in schools be permitted to carry and use nonlethal weapons such as pepper spray for handling these kind of incidents or should they not?

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    Oct 27 2011: I am a senior in high school so I can offer an interesting perspective on this issue. For me, if the school security guard started carrying around pepper spray I would no longer feel as if I were in school, but a prison. Fact is, no matter how rowdy they get, they are still children for christ's sake. Did you people ever consider that? Maybe these kids act like criminals because you treat them like so.

    A good example to back up my idea is that there is a vice-principal at my school who is excessively strict on all the students. I recall an incident where he threatened to expel me over an incident where I shouted complete gibberish on top of a table during lunch (this was the first time the guy even talked to me). He walks around like he is tough, but no one respects him. As a matter of fact, I totally disregard the things he says to me. However, there is a very nice police officer on our campus who everyone is respectful towards. Everyone greets her with a smile and on several occasions I have had pleasant conversations with her. I have never conflicted with her, though if she told me to do something I would go out of my way to respect her orders.

    Arming security guards with pepper spray will send kids the wrong message. Basically, give respect and get respect in return. Its as simple as that
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    Oct 26 2011: Well, first of all, I must ask, how dangerous were these fights? Were they mere petty fights? I would think that it's safe to assume the food fight was non life-threatening to the officer. On the other hand, how dangerous could the real fight have been (the latter fight in the same week)?.

    Let me first examine the food fight. Food fights are harmless and I'm pretty sure middle school children aren't packing razor blades in their mashed potatoes and hurling them at each other, unless this was prison or something. That being said, the pepper spray should not have been utilized in this case. It was total overkill for the security guard to do that and he or she definitely stepped out of line by abusing their powers.

    As for the second fight, the pepper spray should have been used depending on where it happened (after school, in school, on or off school grounds) and the severity of the fight (fists, knives, other weapons, etc.). I believe that if it was just a harmless fist fight, the security guard should have warned the students that he or she was going to use pepper spray on the assailants BEFORE spraying it.

    With young teens and preteens, I think it's important to realize that they're still developing and that even though studies have been done about pepper spray, I believe PS can still damage vision down the line.

    The security guard should have warned before spraying it. If the fight was more severe, with knives, et. al., then the security guard was within power. If it happened anywhere else, off campus or it just a petty fist fight, I think he or she was just power hungry and wanted to teach (and make examples of) the students a lesson on what will happen if you start bullying and/or fighting in his or her school.
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      Oct 26 2011: Nicely put!

      Use of pepper spray seems like an over reaction when a school should have other sanctions, including making the culprits clean up after a food fight. I do wonder what behavioural history there is in the school to justify the policy in the first place.

      There are some issues round the use of riot control mechanisms with youngsters. There is the obvious risk to innocent bystanders, more so as a youngster may have a srtonger reaction to irritants than an adult. Also, unless the typical student at that school is a hardened streetfighter and used to this sort of reaction, there is the risk of panic and hysteria.

      I am very much in favour of school regimes expecting reasonable behaviour from students, but having riot control measures in place and ready to use seems excessive unless the school has pre-existing and severe discipline problems.
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      Oct 26 2011: Well I cannot answer all your questions. I am pretty much in the dark to on how bad the fight was. I do understand that the security guards tried repeatedly to contain and stop the food fight. The fist fight could have been potentially bad. I grew up in Norfolk, VA I have lived here all my life. The fight was at Blair Middle School, which doesn't have a history of ruffians, but I am much older now and many years have passed. I know I went to both middle schools, I was bullied out of Lafayette Winona and transferred to Blair. But eventually was forced back into Lafayette due to a change in bus routes and school districts, that screwed me. Lafayette was really bad last I went there, I was so glad to leave it! I can imagine the kids were very disorderly and disrespectful, probably threw food at the guards to.

      PS: There is a dog for each school in Norfolk, I've seen them in action a few times. searching for weapons and drugs. through out middle and high school.
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    Nov 1 2011: This is NOT the way schools have to be. We need fundamental changes in the way we teach and deal with our young people. We cannot continue to put bandaids on this very serious and very destructive societal problem. People must learn how to behave and that starts with the adults in charge of our system and empowering them to make the schools, relevant, safe, meaningful and constructive. Pepper spray and metal detectors are proof of our massive failure as societies.
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    Nov 1 2011: why do we need guards in our schoolsat all, are the students getting let off easy seeing that someone is there to police them, rather than being forced to police their own behaviour - Give youth resposibility, clean air, good food, access to books, good music, free sports, a chance to express themselves and expect the best from them they'll exceed your expectations. They always do, one way or the other.

    Lock the doors, post guards, have strict policies that limit them, feed them cheap crap, make them or their parents pay crazy fees and expect the worst from them. That doesn't sound like what I think of as a reward, but rather as a punishment.

    My 2 cents.

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    Oct 31 2011: When I graduated high school in 2007 it was after 4 years of watching kids fight each other in the halls and cafeterias monthly. Even with just fists there were severe injuries to those fighting, onlookers, and security guards. Our guards were mostly older men, usually retired police, and they were very congenial guys who really cared about the students. After seeing them with humongous black eyes and scratches at the hands of sometimes much stronger teenage boys I think it would be completely reasonable for them to carry pepper spray.

    It's not a good thing by any means. The fights are a symptom of much larger problems within the public education system and society in general, but as things are right now the peacekeepers need some more muscle to keep the rest of us safe.
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    Oct 28 2011: I am the leader of a school that works with kids who arent allowed to go to mainstream school anymore because of their anti-social behaviour. I have never been hit, rarely threatened and I have broken up perhaps 3 fights in 6 years. What is this pepper spray question?
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    Oct 28 2011: When I was in school, there were no cops there. We had one campus security officer that patrolled the parking lots, but no metal detectors, no searches, no armed police anywhere in the school. Why? Did we get in less fights, or not smoke pot behind the buildings, or not be kids? Of course not. So what was different back then? The adults. Society. People back then realized that kids will be kids, and they weren't so cowardly that they wanted cops in schools to constantly intimidate or harass their children. I was a fat nerd, so I got picked on a lot. But I would never have wanted to see cops in my school. Because even back then I realized that police usually only make things worse. They escalate non-violent situations and turn them into violent situations, because that's all they understand. My parents would have never voted or asked for cops to patrol the hallways of my school, nor would many of the other parents, because they understood the same thing. What might also have helped is the fact that every teacher- even the school nurse- had a big wooden paddle in the desk drawer and they weren't afraid to use it. Sadly, as we approach the police state, more and more people grow up thinking it is normal and good to have cops everywhere, "for our own protection." Parents are considered child abusers if they properly discipline their children, so kids grow up with no healthy respect for their elders. What a pathetic turn of events, but that's how police states and fascist regimes always start out- with cowardly people willing to hand over their rights and freedoms in return for safety from real or imagined threats.
  • Oct 27 2011: I can't believe I am reading this discussion on TED. Seriously, do you even realize what you are discussing? Using pepper spray at schools? Do you imagine how kids should feel going to school where they will be watched by guards with weapons that can be used on them? This is hands down the most absurd thing I have ever read on TED.
    First of all, what kind of schools are we talking about? Nobody brings knives to schools. A school fight is a fist fight at worst. Now if you do actually have children bringing knives and guns to school where they stab, shoot and rape each other, do you honestly believe that hiring a security officer that will spray pepper gas in their face will magically solve the problem? Don't you think these children would simply do the same thing in the streets?
    Hiring security guards and allowing them to use the pepper spray is not addressing the problem of violence at the school at all. If you really have serious violence at school you should learn what is causing such behavior and try solving the real problem rather than just adding fuel to fire.
    • Oct 27 2011: To Viktor Lescenia

      "Nobody brings knives to schools"
      Could I ask where you are getting your information?
      I disagree with that.

      " Don't you think these children would simply do the same thing in the streets?"
      That's right! Go ahead and let them do it on the street where they have been fighting since the dawn of man. School is a place of learning not a place of fighting. At least they are not doing it in schools.

      If a child does not a certain fear of an adult then you will not receive the appropriate response from them.

      "Do you imagine how kids should feel going to school where they will be watched by guards with weapons that can be used on them?"
      That is right to! A kid is going to think twice about picking a fight with another student. He is going to count the cost. "I know if I go and punch that kid and hurt him, I am going to be pepper sprayed... Ya I am not doing that"
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        Oct 28 2011: Just a comment on that last statement, kids are freaking stupid. If anything they would beat the crap out of each other even harder once they see a security guard run up with a can of pepper spray.
      • Oct 28 2011: "Nobody brings knives to schools"
        Could I ask where you are getting your information?

        I don't have any official source for this statement. This wasn't some scientific statement I was trying to give. My point was,as I tried to explain later, that if you do actually have kids bringing knives or guns to school then the school is not worthy of its license. And what I was trying to explain is that violence and oppression aren't the solution to this problem. Instead of bringing the violence to the streets as you suggested, I would rather tackle the issues that are causing this behavior in the first place. And while I do believe that competitiveness is rooted deeply in human, especially male nature ,I would strongly disagree that same can be said about hurting each other.

        And I am not just theorizing. My arguments are mainly based on my own experience. I have been raised in an Eastern European country called Lithuania, there's a lot violence in our schools. School fights are very common thing and do sometimes lead to people being hospitalized. I know that if a person wants to show his dominance he will not submit to any authority. However I also know there's a reason people try to dominate others. First of all it's the environment in which the're raised. It's usually the kids that don't have anything to do after school and spend their days on the streets looking for trouble.
        Second reason is that the school hierarchy( higher grade students being above lower grade students) is generally accepted at schools.
      • Oct 28 2011: Now I myself wasn't a good student, I would always get in trouble for doing silly stuff at school and the school authorities would always try to punish me and show their dominance which made rebel even more. By the 10th grade, the school advised me to transfer to another school or I would simply get kicked out. What I did instead was apply to a school in Denmark, since I knew they were much more liberal. I got accepted and now I am in my final year of IB diploma. I have absolutely no trouble with school staff, I am also the IB president and earn money to support myself by tutoring other kids.

        So my point is that forcing authority is never fruitful. Best case scenario you will get a bunch of no opinion zombie graduates. And if there is a problem of violence at school chances are teachers are one of the factors causing the problem. Anyone can beat a child for misbehaving,that doesn't take any education. However listening to them, letting them open up and express themselves now that takes a good teacher and a professional school.
  • Oct 27 2011: Bad. Very bad.

    The use of security guards in schools, guards who may carry weapons of various kinds, with locked gates or barred windows or doors, along with commanded "zero-tolerance" policies and positions of authority, are similar to the TSA taking aside old ladies and small children for "checking for what?", bombs? bomb-making materials? or for something else entirely?

    Well, it's something else entirely. What it is, is this: They want to send a message, "do what we say, or else!" Do what we want, or else!" Do what you are told or we are going to come down on you hard!"

    Why? This is the beginning of "educating young people" to a police state way of life. As Buckminister Fuller said, "in order to rule massive amounts of people, government will use massive amounts of authority." A police state.

    This is the beginning of showing your childen, "This is what it looks like. This is beginning of telling them this is what it is going to be like.

    And you still think that giving up a bit of liberty for a falsely labeled "safer society" produces safety, safer, safe? Look at police uniforms and how they're armed today. They aren't for terrorists. They're for you.

    The parents who support this should be ashamed of themselves and they should tell their children that authority cannot masquerade as the truth. Only the truth is the authority.

    They have no emotional connection anymore to, "give me liberty or give me death." They have no emotional connection to anything. Especially freedom. That show of force is sinister, insidious and very dangerous.

    Fascism seems to be winning. Certainly those in power have been using what they learned from Fascists since WWII.

    Treat children so drastically and you create violence in them. Put your controlling thumb on anyone and anyone will fight to get out from underneath it and they will use violence to do so. For they should. Allow this to go on and they will turn against you, spy on you and ultimately hate and maybe even kill you
  • Oct 26 2011: Pepper spray is a nonlethal way of stopping violence.
    Why have we not been using it more often in schools is the real question.

    Christopher is right. Why should an officer use his own strength to stop a fight? Really that just stokes the fire and creates an opportunity for some smug kid to say I punched a cop!

    Spray 'em!
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    Oct 26 2011: It is better for the guard to use pepper spray than his own physical strength to restrain the children.

    There really seems little choice for right action.

    Let the kids "duke it out" is wrong, someone could get seriously hurt.
    Restrain the kids without the use of pepper spray- "Mom he hurt me!" lawsuit
    Pepper spray the buggers.
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    Nov 8 2011: I'm not sure where we are with this conversation and I'm not sure if Restorative principles have been mentioned as an alternative to pepper spray? Here where i work with at risk YP's if heated conflict breaks out we sit down and address the issue . We talk about the causes, problem solving skills, non violent approaches. We give apologies and we shake hands. Simple stuff. Powerful stuff. The young people feel so much better afterwards as though a great burden has been lifted. Of course a lot of anger is brought from the home into the schools and sometimes it is necessary to source the root of the problem.
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      Nov 11 2011: Idk, I have been through this type of thing before in a hospital for disturbed children. I was there for being suicidal. I was being bullied relentlessly simply because I was different and didn't care to fit in. I remember one time in high School after a incident we did this in the office, they wanted us to make friends and shake hands, but even though I was willing to, the other guy merely played along with it and continued to be a problem for me regardless. I do appreciate your input though, this tactic is good for neutralizing most problems that are of a lower level. But I can go into detail about the severity of some of the fights at that school. one girl punched another girls eye in with a bottle of hot sauce once. yes the fight was over the hot sauce.... Anyways in severe cases I believe it is a good idea for the security to be present in schools and to use pepper spray. However I do not feel it is necessary in all schools. Kids in some places are less rowdy than others. I personally felt safe knowing the security had spray, though it was never used then. Then again, I wouldn't want to get sprayed because I am getting beat up. I think the use of spray should only be when both students or more are escalating the fight by fighting back and or refusing to cease when demanded by security. other wise there will be a slew of innocent by standers if used in every incident.

      I also agree that your tactics should be used in schools, if we can raise kids with that attitude perhaps when they get older they will not be so rowdy. thank you for sharing Phillip.
  • Oct 28 2011: The main role of a security officer is to ensure order in schools by for e.g, keeping fights under control. The issue here lies with the manner of handling these fights. To what extent can a security officer exercise his authority in stopping these conflicts? I think there is a certain amount of authority the officer can exercise. The line is crossed when the officer 1) cause hurt to student, even though its non-lethal and the pain is temporary and 2) did not exhaust all means to stop the fight, which means he resorts to using the pepper spray once the fight occured. In my opinion, i think pepper spray should be last resort used when it is impossible for him to stop the fights, which is pretty unlikely. There is no point of having security officers then if they can just simply rely on these tools to control fights. I mean, security officers are hired to maintain security, stop fights physically with their burly size. Does being a security officer give them the right to hurt students, even if they are doing it for a good cause? Will this encourage other students to also resort to such means to end fights and gives them the impression that this is the right way to resolve a conflict? i think it is not a good role model to set to children in resolving fights. If the problem can be so easily resolved with pepper sprays, then anyone can stop fights with pepper sprays. Causing hurt to others is not the correct way to teach children to solve problems. The issue here is not so much on pepper sprays, but on teaching children discipline. How do we teach children discipline? That's a long term big problem. If this problem can be solved, the issue of pepper sprays wouldn't arise. Violence begets violence. What's more important is cultivating in our children the discipline to resist getting into impulsive fights and letting ego take over their heads and instead practise being calm and collected under pressure and take control of the situation without being emotionally charged.
    • Oct 31 2011: I agree with you Lynn about having discipline in children. A question that comes with this statement is “who teaches discipline to the child?”. Could it be the teachers or the guidance counselors, or perhaps the security guards themselves?
      I am sure that everyone would agree when I say that it is the parents of that child who teaches him discipline. (Comments on that statement are wide open and wanted)
      If a child is disorderly, disrespectful, out of control, and does not listen to authority most of the blame falls on the parents. (That is debatable I know) Now obviously the child may live in a fine home with good, upright parents who teach him manners, respect and not to fight, but he still, out of his rebellion and nature to hate authority does the opposite.

      So ultimately it is the parents who have a large influence on whether a child fights in school.

      But back to the posted question.

      To Viktor:

      “So my point is that forcing authority is never fruitful.”

      Never fruitful?
      That is quite a powerful statement. The USA forces authority every day. For instance when you speed down the highway 20 miles an hour over the speed limit a cop may pull you over. He exercises his authority and forces you to pay a fine for breaking the law. That is just one of many ways of exercising authority that is perfectly fruitful. It is bad to go over the speed limit because you’re 1. Breaking the law and 2. Putting yourself in a situation where it is unsafe to drive.
  • Oct 28 2011: Oh and okay, it was middle school! I was wondering about the age of these kids.
    Good debate!! :)
  • Oct 28 2011: Hi Matthew, quick question. Was this in a grade school, middle school or high school? I read your Op and could not find it? I will link into your sources. One comment, you should live where I live, pepper spray is nothing!! :(
  • Oct 27 2011: I am really glad to see a discussion like this on TED. This is a very interesting idea, not just pepper spray but weapons, really any weapons, for security guards at schools. And I can offer an interesting perspective on the concept. I am a police officer, I don't work at a school but I work with several who do.

    First off as a police officer I have to say that each officer, and indeed everyone, has the right to defend themselves from an attack, and in a situation where you don't know if someone else is going to bring the weapon that is going to the fist fight, it would be beneficial to have an equalizer. That is the reason why street cops carry guns, because you never know when someone else is going to have one. I don't think that kids have the same likely hood of having a gun so you can't really justify a school security guard having one either, but I do think he should have something. In my opinion a can of Pepper spray, or a taser is just the thing. Kids do bring knifes to school, and other weapons, and the security guards should have the right and the ability to use them in defense of themselves and of others.

    I have seen a few post on here that mention the point of view of the kids being sprayed in the middle of two kids standing up and fighting. I don't think those are the kids of kids that should be getting sprayed. Even on the streets in a law enforcement standpoint you try not to get in the middle of a fight already in progress unless someone is in immediate danger. Now that been said, what about the school bully who is just pounding another kid senseless with this other kid completely unprotected. Now if that bully got sprayed maybe his parents would be upset, but I bet the kid that could have been seriously injured, or even killed, by the bully I bet his parents would be extremely grateful that the guard stepped in and ended the fight before it got any worse, and who's rights should we be standing up for.
  • Oct 27 2011: Today pepper spray and tomorrow ???? Really??? Definitely Bad VERY bad!!!!!!!!
  • Oct 27 2011: Security guards in schools? Seriously?

    But I don't think that they are hired to get into student vs. student brawls and prove "who's the king of the turf", but to end violence. Using supposedly unharmful pepper spray as a tool to not get hurt themselves or to end a fight, then I guess that's fine, let them do that and let's work on getting rid of the need for security guards in schools to begin with. I mean, seriously? Security guards in schools?
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    Oct 27 2011: Bad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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    Oct 27 2011: Bad!!!!! Bad Bad
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    Oct 27 2011: Oh my goodness, bad!
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    Nov 12 2011: Here are some more news updates in my local area regarding the subject. One involves the use of Tasers...

    Not so sure about tasers. Considering there are several reports of fatalities via tasering. I have two titanium steel rods in my spine, a tasers shock could be amplified by my disability. I am not the only person with metal in them, so this shouldn't be in schools. But it is...
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    Oct 31 2011: Well were do I begin. This would be my eye witness accounts of security in school. So I guess I will start with my first day in middle school. There were security guards outside the bus stop in front of the school, they checked everyone that got off the buses with metal detectors. You would line up basically on the bus to get out the door and wait for your turn to be "swiped" to be cleared for exiting the bus. This was mandatory in high school also. At first in middle school that seemed like it was it for awhile. But about every 3-4 months we would have random searches, they would bring a dog in from the Norfolk Police department, German Shepherds. They would go to each classroom during school hours and when they came to your class you had to stop what you were doing and wait to be searched, right there in your desk. This too was mandatory in high school. The dogs would come to your desk and sniff around and move on if you were clean. they would also swipe your bags with metal detectors, the whole process is really futile and wastes time that could be used teaching. In middle school they have found a gun before, I even reported a kid who had a knife in his pocket. He scared me because he said "he hates white kids". Drugs were never a problem in school until you got to high school. That is when they would confiscate cigarettes and lighters, some kids would get busted with alcohol or other illegal drugs they shouldn't have. I recall only one incident where the police found a gun on a student. And two cases of teacher abuse, one was assault, the other was a teacher whom kept talking and flirting with certain girls and eventually got busted for attempting to contact them outside of school. The only time security were ever really effective was for catching kids skipping class, in fact that was what I always thought they were there for. To help prevent skipping kids. Security never seemed like a problem to me. But then again I grew up with them. They were always there...
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    Oct 27 2011: Today we have another report of pepper spray being used in school by security this time in a High School. I told you this is something like a phenomena, this is the 3rd incident in a week! I want to also note that I do recall seeing security carry pepper spray when I was younger but I have never seen nor heard of it actually being used until recently. Norfolk is the only city in Virginia that has a school policy to permit security to carry and use pepper spray. I'm also intrigued to see comments coming from people around the world on this issue. It shocks me to see that the notion of security in schools is alien to some. But that is only because I grew up with them and they did not. This debate is a real eye opener for me. I will write about the security later on and comment on the pros & cons and how I feel they are both good & bad to have around and their effects on me growing up in schools with security, metal detectors, dogs and pepper spray. Discussing the grey area between what is right & what is wrong when teaching our kids discipline & respect for authority and the guidelines we all want kids & security to follow. For now here is the article involving the newest report.

    Here is a article related to the Lafayette incident. With a letter from their principal included.