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South Bend schools to install metal detectors at after-school events as pilot for potential use during school day

South Bend schools security director Eric Crittendon demonstrates the district's new metal detectors at Washington High School on Feb. 27, 2024.
Marek Mazurek, WVPE
South Bend schools security director Eric Crittendon demonstrates the district's new metal detectors at Washington High School on Feb. 27, 2024.

Fans going to athletic events at South Bend schools this spring can expect an added security measure.

A year after fights broke out at two South Bend school district basketball games requiring significant police resources, the district is installing metal detectors at extracurricular events starting with Tuesday night’s sectional basketball games at Washington High School.

The district’s security director Eric Crittendon said the metal detectors aren’t a direct response to past incidents, but that he wants to be proactive

"It’s not just one incident that sparked this,” Crittendon said. “You look at the totality of everything that’s happening [in the county] and what can we do to mitigate some things on our end.”

South Bend paid just under $200,000 for a set of 10 detectors and for now, they’ll only be used at after school events. Though district leaders said if the detectors work well, they’ll look to implement them at high schools during the school day, potentially by next school year.

"This is another layer, along with cameras, to make sure our schools are safe," said South Bend School Corp. Superintendent Todd Cummings. "We're doing what the community's asked us to do."

In a demonstration on Tuesday at Washington, the detectors, purchased from CEIA Security, went off with a red light and soft beeping sound when Crittendon walked through with a heavy piece of metal. Crittendon said the security system can be set to high enough sensitivity to detect all metals — including keys, phones and vapes — but that the district's primary concern is preventing weapons from coming in.

In February of last year, more than five people were arrested following a brawl at Washington High School during a basketball game between the Panthers and Riley High School. The incident resulted in criminal charges for five young men and court documents allege that a group of people involved with a gang on the westside of the city came to the game and began attacking a juvenile associated with a rival gang. No serious injuries were reported, but the game was cancelled and every available on-duty South Bend police officers was needed at Washington to break up the incident.

Then a month later, two others were arrested after another fight at a game at Navarre Middle School, which again required all available South Bend officers to respond. South Bend officers were already at the game on reports that someone at the game had a weapon, but the fight broke out before officers were able to find the person who was armed.

The 2022-2023 school year also saw a handful of incidents involved weapons, including one case where a student brought a gun to Washington and another when a student on the bus home from Jackson Middle School accidentally fired a gun in a school bus.

Crittentdon said there haven’t been any fights or confirmed cases of weapons brought to schools this year.

"We look at things at 'What can we do to help prevent rather than react?' Not saying this is a cure-all, but it's part of our prevention plan from preventing things from coming in," said Crittendon.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.