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Investigator: School children carry bulletproof backpacks

1:02 PM, Aug 22, 2013   |    comments
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Backpacks, bulletin boards, desk calendars and white boards are all items normally found inside a classroom.

Would making them bulletproof, so they can be turned into shields, save lives in a school shooting, such as those that happened in Newtown, Conn., and, closer to home, in Chardon and at Cleveland's Success Tech Academy?

A Cleveland company call Impact Armor Technology believes that it could. The company, which makes inserts for military vehicles designed to protect those inside from IEDs, now also manufactures a school safety line that includes these items. The company says they are strong enough to withstand bullets fired from handguns, and even from a 12-gauge shotgun.

The cost for an insert that makes the backpack bulletproof is $100. The insert, which weighs about a pound, is also used to make clipboards used by police officers.

Rob Slattery, a former police officer who works for Impact Armor Technology, told The Investigator Tom Meyer that the reinforced panels can provide extra protection.

"We're not saying this is a solution," he said. "We're saying this is an added layer of security."

School security expert Kenneth Trump says that while the company that developed this product might have good intentions, that doesn't mean its products will keep kids safe.

"There's a difference between feeling safe and actually being safer," says Trump. "As a father, I have to ask myself if I have to give my kid a bulletproof backpack, do I also need a bulletproof front pack, helmet and a Captain America shield?"

Impact Armor notes that its bulletproof school products will protect students from all handguns and shotguns -- but not from assault rifles, such as the AK-47 carried this week by Michael Brandon Hill, who fired shots in an elementary school office in Decatur, Ga.

Parents of school-aged children are divided on whether this is a product they would buy.

"I would definitely consider buying it, 'cause school ain't what it used to be when I was a kid," says Chris Broffman of Lakewood, who has a 12-year-old son. His wife, Sarah, says she too would pay $100 "to save my kid's life. Sold!"

Jeff Worron, also of Lakewood, has a sharply different viewpoint.

"Would I buy it for my kids? No," says Worron. Besides, he adds, "What am I going to do, take my backpack off and say, 'Wait, don't shoot until I get my backpack out and I can hold it up?' "

A number of school districts, including Cleveland, told us they were not inclined to purchase bulletproof products such as these -- both for reasons of cost and because of the message that it sends that schools are a place where kids can expect violence.

Roseann Canfora, spokeswoman for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, says the district does not recommend such products.

Rather, she says, "In our schools, we use a combination of hardware (surveillance cameras, metal detectors, X-ray machines, wands, etc.) and also our human ware (social-emotional learning curriculum and supports) to keep weapons out of our schools and to keep students safe."

Other school district leaders say the money spent on such items could instead be used for staff training, crisis management and support services for students.

Some districts, including Chardon, where shooter T.J. Lane killed three classmates, said the issue was too sensitive to even comment on.

Slattery says Impact Armor has sold its products to school systems locally and nationally, though the company refused to identify the schools and the amount spent, citing security reasons.

As for how well the inserts work? Channel 3 had a couple of sharpshooters test the bulletproof shields.

Sgt. Kim Rodecker fired at the backpack insert from about 10 feet away with a .357 Magnum. The bullet made an impression on the shield, but did not penetrate.

Mark King fired shots from a rifle, which produced a bulge, but also did not make it through.

Slattery puts it this way: "We're not out there beating the drum, saying 'You need this' and 'Your kid is in danger -- the boogey man is out there.'

"We don't see anything wrong, however, with coming up with products that add another layer of safety to school security.

While the backpack inserts cost $100, the larger desk blotters and bulletin boards run about $350.

Trump says that a lot of the best security inside schools is invisible -- and it includes "training your staff, having relationships, getting psychological and support services for children, working with first responders, having crisis management meetings."

He adds, "There's a high risk of giving people a false sense of security by giving them bulletproof products instead of focusing on the day-to-day things that educators and children need to do."

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