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Security cameras help school resource officers plug into new technology

New breed of hallway monitors used to spot bullying, drug use

POSTED: June 1, 2014 12:30 a.m.

Cameras are everywhere, from banks to stores to home security systems — and now schools.

“We live in a world today in which most of us don’t even realize that we’re on camera,” said Cpl. Kevin Holbrook with the Gainesville Police Department. “As you travel throughout your day, going from place to place, the majority of locations now due to upgraded technology ... are equipped with camera systems.”

Gainesville and Hall school systems incorporate cameras into their security plans, just one tool in how school officials and resource officers keep students safe.

“Our school resource officers do have access to all of the security cameras inside Gainesville City Schools,” Holbrook said. “In fact, they are networked so that officers can not only see the cameras inside their schools but other schools as well.”

Neither Holbrook nor Lt. Earl Roach with the Hall County school resource officer program would confirm how many cameras are in schools, but said they’re important in both deterring and solving crimes.

“On a daily basis, they’re very important,” Roach said. “We use them for anything from a student losing an item, an item missing from a teacher’s classroom ... we use them for all sorts of things, not just major incidents.

“They’re in a lot of schools,” he added. “There’s a big amount, numberwise, of cameras in the Hall County school system.” Roach hinted there may be plans to add more in Hall schools.

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education reports 84 percent of high schools across the country have some sort of surveillance system; it decreases to 73 percent of middle schools and 51 percent of elementary or primary schools.

Certain groups question the need for security cameras in schools. The American Civil Liberties Union’s stance on surveillance cameras is that they are a “tremendous waste of taxpayer money,” and use of them infringes on privacy rights.

Nationally speaking, the U.S. Department of Education reports 85 percent of public schools recorded one or more incidents of violence, theft or other crimes during the 2009-10 school year, the most recent data available. It’s an estimated 1.9 million crimes in the K-12 public system, or 40 incidents per 1,000 students.

In the same report, around 28 percent of students in middle and high schools reported being bullied during the school year.

Closer to home, the Georgia Department of Education conducts the Georgia Student Health Survey, asking students in grades six through 12 to anonymously answer a variety of questions involving health and drug use.

Many of the questions don’t specifically deal with school property, but around 14 percent of Gainesville students responded in 2013 that they had been offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school grounds.

Around 35 percent of girls said they had been “picked on,” or teased at school within a 30-day period; 27 percent of boys replied the same. And 26 percent of girls said they did not feel safe at school; 28 percent of boys agreed.

There were similar numbers in the Hall County system. Nearly 31 percent of girls said they had been teased, while 26 percent of boys agreed. And 20 percent of girls reported not feeling safe in school, while 21 percent of boys reported the same.

Just over 11 percent reported being offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school grounds.

With more students using smartphones to instantly post information when these types of incidents occur, cameras play a big role in helping law enforcement and school officials determine fact from fiction.

“The camera doesn’t lie to you,” Roach said. “If the incident occurs in view of the camera ... we’ll be able to get to the truth of the matter more quickly.”


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