Your school district puts surveillance cameras in schools to protect students and staff. But what good are they if they are not working?
Investigative news stories reveal malfunctioning, unrepaired school security cameras
Recent investigative news stories uncovered disturbing school security equipment failures, in particular focusing on camera systems not being repaired in a timely manner:
- In Kansas City, Missouri, a reporter discovered malfunctioning cameras at a school that had just experienced a rape — cameras that are part of a relatively new $1 million security camera system.
- Paul Aker, an investigative reporter in Columbus, Ohio, found school surveillance cameras that went weeks and months without repair.
- An audit of 41 schools in Knox County, Tennessee, revealed at least three malfunctioning cameras at each of the 41 schools and problems with other security equipment malfunctions.
This is a major school safety issue which puts students and staff in potential jeopardy. It also could put schools at potential risk for greater legal liability.
Lessons for superintendents, school boards and principals in managing security cameras
These reports come on the heels of numerous states awarding millions of dollars to local schools for security equipment purchases. Superintendents and school boards need to make sure that their central office administrators and building principals know that a great deal of planning must be done beyond simply, “hanging a camera over by the main entrance to the school.”
Our experience advising school districts across the country on school security planning has lead to a number of important lessons to remember:
- Prior to spending money on school security equipment, a needs assessment should be conducted. This assessment ideally should be conducted by outside security professionals who are not paid by a vendor or are product-affiliated. This may not always be possible so the next best alternate is a committee composed of district/building level staff, maintenance staff, vendors, and local first responders. However, keep in mind that the end users — building staff — should have the final word on what is needed and where it should be installed. We have seen too many systems installed by well-intentioned persons who are not then going to be charged with the usage of the system and who do not have to live every day with the outcomes of where cameras are placed.
- There are subtle differences in camera equipment and software packages to support those systems that the vast majority of end users will often not notice from one manufacturer to the next. The more critical consideration is, “Who is the vendor?” This vendor is not only the company that will in most situations install the cameras and software, but one that will also be responsible for warranty and related issues. Multiple vendors should be considered and the first question asked should be, “What is your school experience and can you provide references?” Does the vendor understand the school environment? Simply because a company installed hundreds of cameras for another client does not mean they understand what is unique about the school environment. If you select a vendor without school experience, be prepared to educate the vendor about school climate and culture.
- Can the vendor maintain the equipment they will install? How quickly and who will respond to system repair and maintenance issues? We recommend all contracts contain a clause outlining respond times. The response time should be in hours, not days.
- Can the vendor supply the necessary training for all end users? In recent years we have seen too many situations when district IT staff are trained on the system and its software, but the end users at the building level are not trained. Determine also if the vendor is prepared to provide necessary on-going refreshers and training for new staff. Of course, the district should be prepared to pay for training in subsequent years that exceed the warranty or contract period.
- Has the district budgeted for system repairs and additions beyond the original warranty period? Cameras systems installed in the wake of Columbine and 9/11 are increasingly failing and many schools never budgeted for the normal replacement and repair of these systems. Too often central offices point to building principals to foot the bill while principals also have no budget for repair and replacement. The result is that nobody acts, positioning students and staff for increased safety risks and the district at risk for legal liability.
- Remember that the selected equipment company may start as a vendor, but they should become a trusted partner with your district in school safety. They should understand your district and help your staff stay up-to-date on the equipment they install for you. If they are not a trusted and responsive partner, then you picked the wrong vendor.
Three factors to fit security equipment into a comprehensive school safety program
Surveillance cameras and other security equipment can be a positive supplement to a comprehensive school safety program. School leaders must determine what purpose the equipment is to serve, how it will be used on a day-to-day basis, and what their plans are for repair and replacement.
Having security equipment is one thing. Using and maintaining it properly is another.
School Security Consultant
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