‘Safety zones,’ campus monitors, and gun detection systems make up Philadelphia’s back-to-school safety plan

The city of Philadelphia says there will be more police officers around school campuses this fall in an effort to prevent gun violence.

Malik Smith, seen from behind wearing a safety vest, walks with a group of students.

Malik Smith wades into a scuffle between two students outside West Philadelphia High School. Smith patrols the area around the high school at dismissal time as part of the Safe Passage program of the Institute For The Development Of African-American Youth. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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The Philadelphia Police Department will increase the number of officers patrolling neighborhoods around schools, officials announced Wednesday. They’re hopeful this will minimize the risk of students being killed by gunfire.

So far this year, 134 Philadelphia children have been shot, 15 of them fatally, according to data from the Office of the Controller.

The back-to-school plan, conceived in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, involves:

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  • Redeploying officers who were patrolling recreation centers over the summer to neighborhoods surrounding school campuses
  • Hiring new police officers using a $600,000 grant from the Philadelphia Commission on Crime and Delinquency
  • Increasing the number of schools with the Safe Path monitor program on school perimeters from 13 to 22.
  • Establishing 27 safety zones across 40 schools
  • Rolling out “minimally invasive” firearm detection systems in 14 middle schools

“Students and parents will see an increase in visible officers,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. “These added resources will actually amplify the presence of officers in some of our more challenged neighborhoods.”

The School District already employs Safe Path monitors to watch out for violence around campuses. These individuals are trained to provide mentorship and conduct conflict mediation between students. The University of Pennsylvania funds the expansion of that program.

“Philadelphia schools, despite all the things you’ve seen across the city, are the safest places for our kids to be,” said School District of Philadelphia Chief Safety Officer Kevin Bethel. “It’s our job as adults to make it as safe as possible for them. I believe that work is already done.”

The plan does not involve having armed police officers inside schools, which students have opposed in recent years. Instead, “school safety officers” are hired by the district to keep peace inside school buildings.

Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Senator Mike Reagan (R-31) introduced legislation to require schools to hire armed security personnel during school hours.

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“We do not believe that’s necessary,” Bethel said. “We’ve done an effective job keeping our kids safe without having to introduce guns.”

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