High turnover of security guards prompts Detroit district to hire its own force

A revolving door of security guards was creating an unstable environment in Detroit schools, prompting the district to make a big change in how it hires those tasked with ensuring the safety of schools.

The Detroit school board approved a plan to begin phasing out its previous contract with Securitas, a privately contracted security company, in last week’s meeting. The move will mark the first time in nearly a decade that the district will employ its own full-time security guards.

During the meeting, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the plan should change school culture.

“It’s not about judging people individually, it’s looking at a holistic strategy or approach about how you provide security,” Vitti said.

He presented a plan to hire 91 full-time security guards for 39 schools next year. The full-time employees will receive $3 more an hour than Securitas guards. They also will receive benefits, a change that Vitti believes will attract and retain dedicated security guards. It is unclear when the full transition will be complete.

Full-time security guards will not report to Ralph Godbee, leader of the district’s police force. Instead, principals will now be responsible for the hiring and managing their school security. Vitti said that this will give school leaders a feeling of “ownership and empowerment” over their schools.

Although the guards will be trained by the Detroit Police Department, they won’t be armed or authorized to make arrests. The district’s culture and climate department will train the guards to work within its code of conduct. 

The district’s decision to hire security guards comes after testing the plan at 12 schools last year.  Now, in addition to those 12 schools, every high school, alternative school and most secondary schools will receive a full-time security guard employed by the district.

Vitti shared data at the Tuesday board meeting that he said showed why it is important for students to have “more continuity and sustainability overall,” which full-time security guards should provide.

He said that the high turnover of Securitas officers interrupted learning in Detroit’s schools,  led to inconsistent enforcement of the code of conduct, and created bad relationships between students and security guards. 

“We believe that this will reduce the turnover rate,” he said. “In fact, we found that once we filled the positions for the full-time security guards, we had a zero turnover rate.” That’s compared with a 57% turnover rate at Securitas.

Dawn Wilson-Clark, a mother of two current students in the district, says she’s happy with the district’s decision to move away from Securitas. Her daughter is a senior at Cass Technical High School, and her son a sophomore at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern.

Although Wilson-Clark is critical of any school security, she believes that it’s important for the district to be critical of where they spend money. She says that removing Securitas was “a good first step.”

She also says that principals gaining more control over their buildings is a good idea. 

“I’m happy that the power is back into the principal’s hands, and that they will be able to bring in who they think is needed in their building.”

See Vitti’s presentation below, and the security information on Pages 3-7