A nationally recognized publication recently called Dothan, "The best place in Alabama to raise a family," based in-part on reports of school achievement and safety. We decided to put their research to the test, and answer the question, "Are our students safer with uniforms or are they giving intruders an easier way to fit in?"
What we found, may shock you. It's Part 2 of our Special Investigative Series...Uniformed Security.
"It's not hard at all to identify your students. It's very easy to identify who shouldn't be there as well. As far as safety, its been real positive," Superintendet Dr. Sam Nichols said.
"As far as, like that violent intruder, or whatever, I don't know of any instances we've had either this year or last year," Sgt. Benny Baxley told us.
"School safety is magnificent," Ofc. Thomas Davis conquered.
But, are our schools as safe as we think?
"I have on blue jeans with a black shirt with stripes on it, so I should be easy to spot. A strange person or intruder in your school, especially at an elementary school," said an Audio Recording taken by our undercover investigator.
Cameras, heavy-duty locks and, in the past ten years, the addition of School Resource Officers was thought to make our schools safer.
"Our school grounds are pretty well open. I mean, I hate to say it, but just about anyone could walk up to just about any school," Sgt. Baxley said.
"I've seen an increase in MySpace harassment, you know," School Resource Officer, Deputy Wilson said.
"Last year we had more cases of weapons brought to school," Sgt. Baxley recalled.
Just how safe are you kids in school and on the playground? We sent volunteers into nearly a dozen Wiregrass schools. They spoke with Principals, students and teachers, but not one person questioned their presence. In fact, only Highlands Elementary was secure enough to keep our investigators out. For security reasons, we will not specifically identify the schools we went to, but we did ask education supervisors for answers.
"So far, I've passed by 3 teachers, again 3 teachers and nobody has said anything," our undercover investigator said.
"That's pretty bad, we sure don't want that happening there's other training we need to do for that," Sgt. Baxley said.
One undercover volunteer even went into an Elementary School, speaking with the Principal who assumed kids wandering the halls were his kids.
The following is a portion of the transcript of that conversation:
Principal: "How you doin' sir?"
Investigator: "Alright, how about yourself"
Principal: "Can I helo you?"
Investigator: "Yeah, I'm just heading back up to the office."
Principal: "Which child is yours?"
Investigator: "My child is in the car."
Principal: "Oh, okay. Have a nice day"
"That's scary that someone could come in from the street and pick-up kids," Sgt. Baxley said.
During our month-long investigation, only Highlands Elementary School passed our inspection.
"Now, that's pretty good there. I mean one extreme to the other, but that's probably the way it should be," said Sgt. Baxley
How do they intend to ensure that all our kids are safe at school?
"That's kind of a step back, but it's a lesson. That's why we train so you can actually learn and move on from there and do better. " Dothan Police Officer Thomas Davis said.
And what can parents, teachers and students do to keep themselves safe?
"Make that challenge, if you don't know that's the parent of that child, say something and if you're a student and you don't know that person, challenge them," Sgt. Baxley said.
"So far I've been part two teachers, neither of them has said anything," our undercover investigator noted.
Judging from our results, it now seems that uniforms may not have had the effect on safety we once thought. We are releasing our findings to education supervisors and law enforcement, who have pledged to work towards increasing security to our area schools and of course, we'll continue to keep an eye on our children and follow-up on this investigation in the future.