They’re Watching You

The new security cameras.

No matter who you are, you undoubtedly have an opinion on them. However, very few people know much about the cameras or why they were installed, besides the fact that they cost a significant amount of money.

The cameras were installed and are currently upkept by the same company that installed security cameras in Rice and Fairview Elementary. They are motion activated and can be monitored remotely by some school officials and by emergency responders. They were paid for under a category of funds separate from the school budget called PLIGT. By law, the cameras are not allowed in classrooms.  

The decision to install the cameras was one that was made by both the school board and the superintendent, and was a decision which the superintendent prioritized as soon as he began to work for Crestwood.  “When I came here, you had four cameras across two schools which absolutely horrified me… from a safety point of view that’s… very concerning,” he said.

In a very short period of time, over three hundred cameras were installed in both the interior and exterior of the middle and high school.  This “brought [us] into the twenty-first century at lightning speed.”

One of the main issues that people take offense to regarding the cameras is their cost.  According to the superintendent, the installation and maintenance of the cameras cost around $360,000 dollars this year. In years to come, they will cost around $24,000 to maintain, though this is a contract that “we are going to look to renegotiate”.

Both students and faculty are quick to mention alternative purchases that could have been made with the money that was spent on the cameras. “Could we have used those funds elsewhere? Yes, it’s a sizeable investment, but there is nothing more important than the safety of our students and our employees and everyone else in this district.”

So, what exactly did such a hefty investment buy? Primarily, safety. Without the cameras, “if there was an event that unfolded, we really [had] no way of helping emergency responders help us”. Now, if “there are parts of the building that can’t be accessed [during an emergency], we can still get a look as to what’s happening… this tool gives us the ability to respond much more quickly than [the] four cameras from the past.”

The cameras also provide what the superintendent referred to as “residual benefits”.  Such benefits are the ability to identify students and potentially press charges or recoup restitution in cases of accidents, fights, and vandalism. In such instances, the cameras are not used to “fish” for things, rather to validate information after the fact. Only the front door monitor constantly watches the cameras, and this is mostly to keep track of who enters and exits the building.

While safety may be the primary reason the cameras were installed, “generally, cameras don’t provide security, they provide evidence”, says history teacher Mr. Kane.  

Throughout the process of installing the cameras, Mr. Kane has been one of the most outspoken faculty members against them. “I am all for preventing vandalism and violent crimes, but I am concerned about student and staff privacy as well,” he said. “Americans have seen the 4th Amendment shredded in the name of security”. To add insult to injury, ”the teachers union has requested a written policy on how [the] cameras might be utilized… but to date we have not received any details”. This may not seem like a problem, but in instances like the case Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, there were no written policies in place dictating how or why school owned cameras could be used, which allowed for major privacy infringements to occur.

If security cameras have the potential to infringe on students’ rights, how else could we ensure safety in school? According to Mr. Kane, “one school security expert pointed out that each of the school shooters over the last few years has done something to draw attention to himself just prior to committing the crime… He stressed human intelligence was far more important than cameras”.  Thus, Mr. Kane believes that it would be more beneficial to have enough staff around to “keep an eye on things”, versus having hundreds of cameras that are not always being watched.

Mr. Kane also believes that new classroom doors would be more effective than the cameras. “The current classroom doors provide zero protection, and locked doors have saved lives time and again in these situations. I cannot think of a scenario where the police reported that school security cameras saved lives”.

It is necessary to obtain a balance between using the cameras for surveillance and using the cameras to create a “surveillance state”.  Where the cameras fall on this spectrum is decided largely by opinion. We know the thoughts of administration and some faculty members, but what do students think?

When a sample of students was surveyed, no students believed that the cameras were being over-monitored. In fact, very few were under the impression that the cameras were regularly and thoroughly monitored at all. The vast majority of students believe that they are only monitored from time to time, are not monitored thoroughly, or are never monitored and are solely used in order to validate information. Around twenty percent of students even believe that they should be more thoroughly or more frequently monitored.  So, what sort of impact does this have on the effectiveness of the cameras?

Theoretically, whether or not people believe that the cameras are monitored or not should have no effect on their behaviors. After all, they’re still recording, right? However, a study done by the Urban Institute reveals that residents of a neighborhood where security cameras were recently installed “did not believe that police officers regularly monitored the cameras and therefore continued to commit crimes as if they were not there”. This means that students may be just as likely to commit crimes with the cameras installed, simply due to the fact that they believe they will never be caught.

Whether you are a defender or a critic of the cameras, one thing is certain: The cameras will still be recording either way.


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