This article originally appeared in the The San Gabriel Valley Tribune and was written by Beau Yarbrough. To view the original article, click here.
Alhambra, CA — Visit the campus of Garfield Elementary School, and the first thing you’ll be asked to do is hand over your driver’s license.
You’ll get it back a minute or so later and, if all goes well, you’ll also get a sticker ID badge that includes the photo off your license and your name.
In the time it takes to produce the badge, a new computerized system at most Alhambra Unified schools will cross-reference your name in sex offender databases across the country and let office staff know if you’ve been convicted of a crime and of what sort.
“We are recognized across the country for taking the lead in school safety and a lot of programs,” said Laurel Bear, assistant superintendent of Student and Employee Welfare for Alhambra schools. “This was just a way to tighten up those barriers and add additional support.”
The district has installed the system at 13 elementary and three high schools, along with their alternative education center and district office.
“Our parent community is very supportive of all the actions we’ve taken on behalf of student safety,” Bear said. “So this is just another layer of that.”
The technology the district is using has been around for 15 years and is in place at more than 18,000 schools nationwide, according to Jim Vesterman, CEO of Houston-based Raptor Technologies.
“We’ve been dedicated to schools from the very beginning,” he said.
The company has only recently decided to make a push into California, where it’s now being used at more than 800 schools, most of them in Southern California.
“The majority of schools in America use pencils and paper to screen people coming onto campus,” and just have visitors sign a log, Vesterman said. “You could write down my name, and I could write down your name, and nobody would know the difference.”
Alhambra Unified implemented the system during the 2016-17 school year.
So far, the system has caught one sex offender attempting to come onto a campus, Bear said, along with a number of false positives.
“It’s become well-known in the community, and that’s half the prevention right there,” Bear said.
The Raptor Visitor Management System scans visitors’ IDs and then compares the name and date of birth with sex offender registries in all 50 states.
“It takes about 30 seconds,” Vesterman said. “These days, we’re flagging about 35 registered sex offenders a day” nationwide.
What the technology does not do, though, is run a full criminal background check on visitors.
Legally, “you can only run a full criminal background check for certain purposes under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” Vesterman said. “You can’t just run a full criminal background check on someone coming into school.”
But each district also has the ability to add entries to a custom database.
“Most districts put in custody issues — who can pick up whom,” Vesterman said. “Otherwise, they’d have to rely on their memory of the front desk person or look it up in a file cabinet.”
Other districts add in local gang members, he said. And one Raptor sales representative in Tennessee found himself flagged by the district’s local database, Vesterman said, for an outstanding cafeteria balance.
Following the on-campus North Park Elementary School shooting in April — when the estranged husband of a teacher shot and killed her and a student and left another injured — San Bernardino City Unified is considering systems such as Raptor’s as part of a planned upgrade to campus security, according to district spokeswoman Linda Bardere.
“We do have something that we’re piloting at North Park,” Bardere said. “It scans your ID when you present it.”
San Bernardino City Unified is trying out a system created by North Carolina-based LobbyGuard, along with other potential upgrades to campus security.
“We’re in the middle of an independent safety assessment,” Bardere said. “We’re trying to do a well-thought-out approach.”