Chelsea Brown remembers when a student was shot inside Evanston Township High School.

Brown, now a sergeant with the Evanston Police Department, still recalls the incident from when she was an ETHS freshman more than 20 years ago.

“The bullet hit an innocent kid in the back,” Brown told a 7th Ward virtual meeting on Thursday night.

Chelsea Brown.

It happened when another student brought a gun to school in a backpack that fell to the cafeteria floor and the gun went off. The injured student survived, but Brown said the incident prompted numerous discussions about school safety.

Those same discussions are likely to happen again, following Thursday’s incident where two guns were discovered at ETHS, and the building was locked down for several hours.

No shots were fired this time. Three juveniles have been charged.

Brown was briefing ward residents about crime in their neighborhood, but also talked about the latest gun incident, and what might be done to prevent something like that from happening again.

The sergeant said stationary metal detectors were discussed back when she was a student, but despite a gun getting into the building and going off, were never adopted.

Brown says it’s time to consider them again.

“Should the issue be addressed?,” she asked. Her answer: “Absolutely.”

There are varying opinions nationwide about whether metal detectors are worth the cost.

Walk-through metal detectors cost a few thousand dollars each. Plus, there are expenses for staff to work the machines, and for training.

Usually, metal detectors are used in large urban districts such as Chicago and New York, often in high crime neighborhoods. That, in itself, has raised questions, as reported by The Atlantic, of whether they become part of a school to prison pipeline for minority students.

A school safety brief from the WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center, summarizing research studies on the subject, says the high point of metal detector usage in schools was in the mid 1990s, when one in every 10 schools had the devices. The percentage has decreased since then.

Another study group, Hanover Research, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, says that metal detectors provide a psychological level of comfort and assurance that the building is safer because people have to go through detectors.

Plus, it concludes that “detectors also serve as a form of deterrence because visitors to the school know they will be searched and may think twice about carrying a weapon or dangerous object into the premises.”

On the other hand, WestEd notes that airport security screening, with trained personnel, still misses some weapons.

The research organization says there is “little evidence to support” the effectiveness of metal detectors in preventing school shootings, and adds that metal detectors may send the wrong image that a particular school is not safe.

However, Sgt. Brown, who on Thursday saw a gun-in-school incident that could have been a lot worse, is urging citizens to lobby the school board for metal detectors at ETHS.

“Optics are kind of a moot point,” she says. “Safety of the kids is primary.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.