Thursday, June 23, 2011
By LINDA M. LINONIS
School superintendent Stan Watson and Police Chief Rich Tisone view the newly installed surveillance cameras in township schools as “deterrents to bad behavior.”
The cameras, which were installed this month in common and high-traffic areas at E.J. Blott Elementary, William S. Guy Middle and Liberty High schools, are an integral part of the safety plan designed to protect students and staff. The cameras are linked to the township police department through the Internet. Surveillance is displayed on screens in the police dispatch center.
Watson, who came to Liberty Local Schools in July 2010, said the safety committee “saw a gaping hole” in the existing video capability.
Though some cameras were used, they were analog and old. A concentrated effort was made to upgrade the system. Funds from a permanent improvement levy of 0.9 mills, which generates about $224,000 annually, were used. The cost of digital equipment was $25,000, money well spent to help keep the schools safe, officials said.
Watson and Tisone, who both have decades of experience, said they have a “good working relationship,” which made the collaboration smooth.
The school safety committee has input from fire and police departments. Its safety plan addresses evacuation and fire drills, police-dog sweeps, mapping and identifying school buildings and grounds, video surveillance, school bus accidents, bullying and cyberbullying. Once school is in session, schools are locked. Visitors can enter only through the main doors and into the offices.
Watson said the surveillance system has two components — deterring bad behavior and vandalism and providing documentation. Surveillance videos are time stamped. “When you think you might be on camera, you have a different mind set,” he said.
From the law enforcement point of view, Tisone described the surveillance cameras as a “safety tool.”
He said surveillance in real time allows police to respond quickly to the right place at any of the schools should a “critical incident” occur. He said “critical incident” could be a person making threats or an individual with a weapon.
The cameras provide a view on “common areas” with high traffic, such as hallways, gyms, cafeterias and parking lots. A bonus is that officers’ can access the surveillance via laptops in cruisers. With detailed mapping of the schools they have and the surveillance, police would be able to pinpoint an intruder’s location and not waste time searching the entire school. If there would be a fire or explosion, the fire department also would have vital information through the surveillance.
Michael Streets of the school district’s technology staff said the infrastructure of wiring, networking and computers had to be put into place. “The system is expandable,” he said of the updated equipment. The system uses 12 digital surveillance cameras and four analog, which eventually will be replaced. “The software is easy to use,” he said.
Linking to the police department was easy because it had undergone its own leap into technology in 2008. “Before that we essentially had one computer,” Detective Sgt. Robert Greaf said. Now computers are used as part of the daily routine. The department, through its website at www.thelibertypolice.com, offers an online reporting system for minor crimes and incidents.