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School System May Buy Arms-Detection Devices

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Ana school officials are considering buying a digital scanning security system that purports to detect weapons on a person and pinpoint where and how many are being carried.

The officials said the system, if purchased, would be used at sporting and other events that attract large crowds.

“It is very inconspicuous and effective,” said Al Mijares, superintendent of the 60,000-student Santa Ana Unified School District.

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During a demonstration Thursday for educators and campus police at Santa Ana High School, the system was put to the test, catching a razor blade that a company executive had placed in his mouth.

The device--a portal attached to a monitor--scans people as they walk through and shows metal objects as bright dots on screen.

Paul Reep, chief executive of Idaho manufacturer Milestone Technology, said the system pinpoints the location of objects via the monitor and gives an alert if any are possible weapons, ranging from small knives to handguns.

The system has been tested at schools in New York, Reep said, and a number of schools in Colorado have ordered the machines, but so far the device is in use only at a courthouse in Idaho.

The machine can tell innocuous items such as cell phones from possible weapons, Reep said. Also, an unusual location for a metal object, such as a razor blade in someone’s mouth, would attract the attention of security guards, he added.

Mijares said the district has been considering purchasing two machines, which are portable and cost an estimated $40,000 each.

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Security guards randomly pat down people at large gatherings, Mijares said, but that can be time-consuming and seem heavy-handed.

The district will test the machine at school campuses and events in the next several weeks, he said, before making a decision.

School officials say weapons on campus are relatively rare. The number of students caught with weapons statewide decreased from 1.22 per 1,000 in 1996 to 1.14 in 2000, the latest California Safe Schools Assessment report states.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, campus police and staff carry metal detectors and students are randomly searched for arms at all middle and high schools, said district Police Chief Wesley Mitchell. The number of youths caught with weapons last year in the 710,000-student district was about 510.

In Santa Ana, school police seized arms from about 50 students last year.

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