Middle and high school students feel safer with security officers and a moderate level of security camera use outside of their schools, but a greater deployment of cameras inside school buildings makes them feel less safe, according to a school climate survey of more than 54,000 students from nearly 100 schools in Maryland, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Led by Arizona State University assistant professor Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, the study found that high numbers of security cameras inside schools decreased students feeling of safety overall, perhaps because they viewed such cameras as a surveillance measure to monitor misbehavior like cutting class. African American students less negatively than their white peers, perhaps because they see the cameras as potentially documenting abuse they suffer at the hands of school personnel.

But security officers, defined as anyone in a uniform but mostly referring to sworn law officers, were seen as increasing feelings of safety. Lindstrom Johnson believes the central message of the study is that school administrators should thoughtfully consider how best to spend their safety dollars, and she believes supporting students’ mental health might be the most effective methodology overall.