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News 3 Investigates: New weapons detection systems launched at several schools in Hampton

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HAMPTON, Va. – The Hampton City Schools division is expanding the use of Bluetooth-powered weapons detection systems to prevent guns and knives from entering school buildings.

“We do everything we can to make sure that our kids are safe,” said James Bailey, a former Hampton police officer and current Security Supervisor for Hampton City Schools. “Hopefully, we don’t find anything. We want kids to make good choices.”

According to school district leaders in Hampton, they launched the weapons detection system at their high schools last school year. This year, they’ve expanded the devices to the district’s middle schools, Pre-K-8 schools, and Kilgore Gifted Center.

“I feel safer in some ways,” said Jayden Ellis, a student at Kilgore Gifted Center.

“If it’s an extra layer of precaution and safety, I’m good with it,” said Jayden’s mother, Nicole Ellis. “It’s one of the top priorities, making sure that [my son] goes to school and that he gets home safely.”

Bailey said the district’s weapons detection systems, which cost $12,000 per unit, are designed to detect guns and knives. Students must walk through the detectors upon entering the building every day. The devices are portable, allowing them to be easily transported for use at larger school events.

“This is the same [type of] units Busch Gardens uses throughout the country,” said Bailey. “We focus on having a safe and nurturing environment. We do not want our schools to look like a prison coming in.”

“Before we can teach kids, they have to know, number one, that they’re safe,” said Dwayne Lucas, the principal of Tarrant Middle School in Hampton, where the devices debuted this school year. “It’s so important to make sure we are proactive.”

A Hampton City Schools spokesperson said they plan on expanding the devices to all their elementary schools in the future.

The News 3 team of investigators also learned Portsmouth Public Schools tested the devices at Manor High School last school year, and they plan to have them installed in all their high schools and middle schools by the end of the year. Division leaders at Norfolk Public Schools and Suffolk City Public Schools said they are considering using the units on their campus, too.

“If I have to go through the airport, or go to the amusement parks and they’re [using these devices], I just trust that it’s working. It’s mitigating some harm from happening,” Nicole Ellis said.

While there are increased calls for metal detectors in schools nationwide in light of the shooting in Texas, there are critics.

“I do feel like the sense of a metal detector, like every single day is extreme,” said student Kiara Alexander during a special forum on school safety. “Just the feeling of it is, whew.”

A focus on the use of metal detectors in Hampton Roads school districts increased when a Newport News student brought a gun into Heritage High School last year and shot and injured some of his classmates. The News 3 team of investigators learned Newport News Public Schools has metal detectors available at its middle and high schools and are used each day on a random basis. Other districts across Hampton Roads have similar policies.

Additionally, division leaders across the Seven Cities confirmed there are additional measures in place to enhance school security, including School Resource Officers, staff trained as School Security Officers, security cameras, anonymous tip lines, and visitor verification systems.

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