By Paul Feist

Increasingly we are seeing security systems being evaluated by school districts seeking to increase the safety of all building users. On the surface it seems to be a good idea. The cost of systems has dropped significantly in the past eighteen months, making a security camera system a viable budget line item. The idea of being able to monitor hallways and common areas during class change periods should provide a deterrent to bullying and other destructive behaviors.

Here are some considerations you should include in any security plan that calls for the installation of cameras.

First, conduct a thorough vulnerability assessment of the entire school property. This is a combination of a written evaluation with a walk through of the facility by a security professional trained in surveillance techniques. Another aspect of the vulnerability assessment, interviews with students, will often uncover areas where supervision is lacking and camera coverage would be an asset.

Second, implement stringent security protocols for data generated by the security camera system. Storing hard drives in a locked cabinet is not enough, nor are generic “cloud” storage sites. Student hackers are resourceful, you must have a well encrypted system with a limited number of people who have access.

Third, realize that the primary value of a security camera system is to monitor the student supervisors more than the students. During normal school activities in common areas or the halls during change periods, knowing that faculty and other supervisors are actively on duty and where they are supposed to be is valuable to an administrator.

Fourth, make certain you have taken multiple steps to properly notify all building occupants about the security cameras. Include information in student handbooks and post signs, both as a deterrent to unwelcome behaviors and to reassure students, parents, and staff. Do not disclose whether the cameras are being monitored in real time, even if they are. This can become an issue if an incident is not recognized quickly and results in an accident or injury when the system was being monitored.

Fifth, manage expectations. School cameras can significantly improve school safety. However there is significant research indicating that they have a limited affect on crime rates. If someone is planning to come to school with the intent of shooting one or more victims, the fact that their actions will be recorded is not going to stop them.

By the same token, having video evidence of a bullying incident and not holding the aggressor(s) accountable will reduce the deterrent value of the system. Consequences, consistently applied, are a more powerful deterrent than the idea of being caught on camera.

Can a school security camera system be a valuable tool to help administrators identify problems and improve school safety? Absolutely! But only if the camera system is recognized for what it is: one component of a larger school safety and preparedness plan.

PFeist75x75Paul Feist is a 25 year law enforcement veteran. He is a Principal, Senior Analyst at Soteria Group.

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