Making schools safer | SteamboatToday.com

Making schools safer

Steamboat Springs — Creating and maintaining a safe, crime-free environment for school children should be a top priority in every community, including ours. We're fortunate to live in an area with relatively low crime – particularly violent crime – but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take proactive approaches to school safety and crime prevention. — Creating and maintaining a safe, crime-free environment for school children should be a top priority in every community, including ours. We're fortunate to live in an area with relatively low crime – particularly violent crime – but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take proactive approaches to school safety and crime prevention.

— Creating and maintaining a safe, crime-free environment for school children should be a top priority in every community, including ours. We’re fortunate to live in an area with relatively low crime – particularly violent crime – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take proactive approaches to school safety and crime prevention.

The Steamboat Springs School District has been presented with a $533,000 federal grant that would boost security measures at all four district schools.

The grant, to be administered through the city of Steamboat Springs, requires matching funds.

Security equipment that could be purchased with the funds includes internal and external security cameras, electronic key card access systems and hand-held radios. The Steamboat Springs School Board unanimously authorized the purchase of new 800 MHz radios for district personnel and administrators.

The more contentious vote will come when and if the School Board moves forward with a plan for installing cameras inside district schools.

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We believe internal security cameras could be a valuable tool in crime prevention and, potentially, school safety.

School officials and local law enforcement officers have identified theft and vandalism as frequent occurrences at some of our schools, particularly the middle and high schools. Cameras could go a long way toward curbing the prevalence of those incidents.

The combination of internal and external school cameras also could be beneficial in the event of children who go missing, as well as monitoring school visitors and suspicious behavior.

That said, it’s na├âive to think internal security cameras can or will prevent an assault on students and staff. Security cameras did little to prevent such tragic incidents at Columbine High School in 1999 or at an Omaha, Neb., shopping mall last week.

Some critics of indoor security cameras say they violate a Constitutional right to privacy and amount to unwarranted monitoring of innocent children.

We don’t buy that argument. There is a limited expectation of privacy in public school facilities – particularly common areas, and as we understand it, the cameras would not be monitored unless for specific or emergency situations.

Rather, the camera footage would be available for review only when such review is needed – solving crimes and other incidents. Cameras would not be placed in classrooms, bathrooms or locker rooms. We would urge the School Board to adopt a carefully authored policy stipulating when, where and how video footage can be used – and who can access that footage.

Critics such as Steamboat Springs High School Principal Mike Knezevich say indoor cameras would erode the culture of trust at his school. He said the majority of students and staff at his school are against the use of cameras, and he also said fighting and vandalism aren’t problems on his campus.

But more than 50 percent of the school’s leadership class supports the idea of indoor cameras, and school resource officer Deb Funston said the school has repeated reports of thefts in areas that can’t always be monitored by adults.

Drew Atkins, the assistant principal at Summit High School in Frisco, says he has received virtually no complaints about the cameras in his school and that they have “helped tremendously” in reducing theft and vandalism.

The bottom line is that our students and staff should feel safe in their schools.

Theft, vandalism, bullying and fighting detract from that sense of security. While cameras can’t and shouldn’t be relied upon to prevent all incidents, they can be a strong deterrent.

Most school districts that employ the use of security cameras report reduced crime and other incidents.

We shouldn’t let cameras provide a false sense of security, but it would be irresponsible not to take every reasonable precaution for the safety and well-being of our children.