All Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools should restrict entry to one point and "wand" all who enter, whether students or adults, Police Chief Kerr Putney told concerned parents Thursday.
Putney, who has been meeting with Superintendent Clayton Wilcox about school safety in the wake of a Feb. 14 mass shooting, acknowledged the change will be costly and inconvenient. But he called it essential to keeping guns out of schools.
"You're going to have to give up some level of freedom to get this right," the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief said at a town hall meeting at Steele Creek AME Zion Church on Thursday night.
Parents repeatedly questioned Putney about how to protect schools against shooters. Students and others concerned about school safety have staged walkouts and marches since a gunman in Parkland, Fla., killed 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Putney said he is working with CMS to provide better "active shooter" training at all schools, with specifics tailored to each campus.
Wilcox has yet to release details of his plans to bolster school safety. While Putney repeatedly praised Wilcox's work on the matter, it seems unlikely that Putney's vision of airport-style screening at every campus will materialize soon.
Consider, for instance, West Charlotte High, which has 15 buildings and multiple parking lots on a sprawling campus. Last year voters approved a bond package that will replace that setting with a single modern building, the kind Putney says is much easier to secure against intrusion.
The West Charlotte project is budgeted for $110 million, with completion in 2022.
Now consider that CMS has 176 schools, and dozens include multiple buildings and/or mobile classrooms. That means students, staff and volunteers are coming and going throughout the school day.
And the largest schools have more than 3,000 students, which would create a bottleneck if all were scanned at the start of the day.
"We're going to have to make a lot of structural adjustments," Putney said Thursday. "It's not as simple as I would like. It's not as quick as I would like."
Wilcox recently said he plans to ask the county for about $9 million for physical improvements to fortify schools, such as fencing, surveillance and doors. He acknowledged that's a small fraction of what it would take to bring all schools up to ideal safety standards.
His operating budget, which will be presented to the school board in April, is likely to include additional spending for staff to enhance safety, such as school psychologists and CMS police officers.