Security cameras inside schools spur debate

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— Some call installing security cameras in Steamboat schools authoritarian. Others, including many students, call it a necessity.

Whether the community would support such a step remains in question.

"Since we are not in inner-city Detroit, we are in a little town in Colorado, it is more of a luxury to have security cameras than a necessity," said Thomas Lotz, a sophomore at Steamboat Springs High School. "We also have teachers and cops watching us, and we have students who keep an eye out for that stuff."

Senior Kevin Bertrand said he supports installing cameras inside the schools, such as in hallways, the library and other common areas.

"I don't think they are going to be watching our every move," he said. "I think that it's good to have them if something does happen."

Lotz and Bertrand were two of 37 students in Lucianne Myhre's leadership class who debated this week the merits of installing such cameras, which would be part of a $533,000 federal grant to help boost security measures at all four schools in the Steamboat Springs School District. The "Secure Our Schools" grant will be administered through the city of Steamboat Springs.

Nineteen students in Myhre's class said they support the internal cameras. There was near unanimous support for external cameras to monitor entrances and the parking lot.

The Steamboat Springs School Board voted unanimously Monday to authorize interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser to direct district staff to acquire 800 MHz radios, which will cost the district $145,284, but board members did not authorize the purchase of additional security equipment until community support is weighed.

Community voice

In 2001, the Boulder Valley School District considered spending up to $840,000 for new internal school security cameras as part of a security upgrade package, but those plans were scrapped after protests from the community and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"After the plan was protested, we held community meetings and some facilitated discussions," said Briggs Gamblin, Boulder Valley School District's communications director. "Ul-timately, the feeling was that we feel the greatest prevention for school violence or security violations are our kids."

He noted that promoting a philosophy of trust among staff and students prevents students from acting out violently.

"Some people were concerned for civil liberties, but this plan sent a lack of trust to the kids and that created at the high school level an us-versus-them situation," Gamblin said.

He added that by having internal security cameras, which he noted are common in most Front Range high schools, a few school crimes may have been solved, but the cameras simply didn't have the support of the community.

"This is a decision that really should be made on a district-by-district basis locally," Gamblin said. "It ought to meet a community standard."

The Boulder Valley School District numbers about 29,000 students in 55 schools. Some mountain towns that are closer in size to Steamboat have had cameras in schools for more than a decade.

At Summit High School in Frisco, about 20 internal cameras were installed when the high school was built in 1997.

"From my experience, I've never heard much complaints about the cameras," said Drew Atkins, assistant principal at the high school.

Atkins said there are no cameras in locker rooms, classrooms or school offices, but he noted the cameras have "helped tremendously" in reducing theft and vandalism at the high school.

"Where there are almost 1,000 kids in a school when a crime is committed, a teacher or a school resource officer can't be everywhere you want," he said. "The camera shows clearly who it was."

Student rights

Judd Golden, chairman of the Boulder chapter of the ACLU, has spearheaded efforts across the state to keep cameras outside of schools.

"A camera - in and of itself - the idea of capturing a photographic image of a student, is not intrusive or impacts any privacy concerns," Golden said. "The problem with surveillance cameras is what is done beyond the presence of them. What is actually going to be done with these images and what protection is there that those images won't be misused? There is nothing wrong with teachers or others in the hallways observing people, but when you capture those images the potential for misuse and abuse outweigh any possible benefit gained."

Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae, who helped secure the grant with Public Safety Director J.D. Hays, said it is reasonable for students to surrender some rights in schools.

"People have a right to bear arms, but you are not going to let a kid take a shotgun into school," he said.

From a crime prevention standpoint, Rae said he is certain the cameras will have an impact on schools.

"I think it's a well-known fact that a person is a lot less likely to do something bad or commit a crime if they know they are being watched or if they know they can be caught," he said.

School Resource Officer Deb Funston seconded Rae's assertion the cameras would be a crime deterrent, as well as an investigation tool.

"I have no desire to sit in front of a monitor to see what is going on all day," she said. "But if we get repeated reports that we have thefts, like we are having now in areas we can't always monitor, it would be nice to have something to look at."

Changed culture

School Board member John DeVincentis, a former principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School, is the board's most vocal opponent of installing cameras in the schools, citing concerns about rights to privacy.

School Board member Laura Anderson also voiced her displeasure in installing cameras at schools, because students largely do not choose whether to attend.

School Board members Robin Crossan, Lisa Brown and Denise Connelly said they would like to hear from the community before taking action on the proposal.

Principal Mike Knezevich said the cameras would destroy the high school's climate of trust.

"I believe, as do the overwhelming majority of staff and students, that cameras inside of the building would radically change the culture of our building," said Knezevich, who noted the external cameras and hand radios are badly needed.

"We work so hard and have created an atmosphere of trust among our students and an environment where they feel comfortable and welcome in the high school," he said. "We do not have incidents of vandalism, fights or other issues that these cameras would take care of."

Rick Denney, the school district's director of facilities, cited highly publicized acts of school violence, such as at Virginia Tech University, Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, and Columbine High School in Littleton, as examples of the need to enhance school security.

On Thursday, none of the students expressed safety concerns about Steamboat schools.

"I feel safe here. It's so small, you know everybody, and I don't ever feel like people feel uncomfortable here," junior Amber Sachs said. "I don't think cameras are worth all the money."

- To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

dreamweaver 6 years, 9 months ago

I think a bigger and much more important issue is that the students should be an integral piece of monitoring the activity in the schools. If they felt that it was their responsibility to maintain order in "their" schools, the internal cameras most likely wouldn't be needed.

On the other hand, external cameras would be beneficial since the world in which we live requires that we keep our children safe from others could walk in and do harm. It's not something I like, but it is a reality, and in this litigious society, one in which the school could be sued for not taking action to prevent an event from occuring.

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Scott Wedel 6 years, 9 months ago

The fundamental issue regarding security cameras are not the cameras themselves, but what is done with the video recordings.

The technology exists to have the system recognize every student and thus track every student through the school day and thus create a video database of every student's location and interactions. That is not currently cheap to do, but if the policy is to use the video to maximize security then reaching that step is only a matter of time and money.

If the policy is to maximize privacy then the video is stored and looked at only after there is a clear evidence of an incident requiring investigation and then the video is reviewed by a police officer and the person responsible for ensuring the school district's video policy is being followed.

A labor saving policy that respects privacy would allow school security to view live video so that fewer people are needed to watch the students, but to have strict limitations on when recorded video can be replayed.

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