Safety & Security

Proof is in the Picture (Image)

While many people have unrealistic expectations of what security cameras can do to enhance school security, it is also common for people to fail to understand some benefits of cameras. One of the most important benefits of security cameras in schools is to aid in the investigation and resolution of safety and security incidents that take place. We advise school officials to understand that security cameras can be used to prove that reasonable steps were taken or conversely that school staff failed to take proper steps to prevent an incident.

Viewing security cameras as a tool to assist staff in supervising students, rather as a means to replace in-person supervision of students and monitoring of key areas is important. Increasingly, school security cameras are also being integrated into school emergency response planning. Many schools now have security camera systems that allow school and public safety officials to view cameras in a real-time fashion when a crisis occurs. While each of these aspects of security cameras are important, there are other benefits of security cameras for K12 schools that are often overlooked.

Security cameras can assist administrators in improving student supervision.

While many people think in terms of security cameras as a means for staff to monitor students, they can often be more helpful tools for school administrators to improve and document proper live supervision of students by school staff. While my experience has been that live supervision is often more reliable, I recommend that school administrators regularly evaluate and adjust how staff supervise students by using their security camera systems.

Cameras can be an excellent tool for school administrators to use to spot check and document that staff are properly positioned. They can also help verify that staff are properly separated and dispersed so they can more effectively monitor students. Administrators can periodically spot check multiple areas of their campus to provide excellent documentation in the event of litigation. While in-person evaluation is still a good idea, using a combination of approaches is more effective.

Security cameras can help spot and correct opportunities to prevent traffic fatalities.

Among the leading causes of death for K-12 students, school-related traffic fatalities are often overlooked while other less common school safety incidents like active shooter events are addressed. School administrators should periodically observe morning arrival and afternoon dismissal in person to spot and correct potential pedestrian/vehicle conflicts. School security cameras can often provide significantly different viewpoints than ground level perspectives. By periodically observing the flow of students, passenger vehicles and school buses via different camera views, school officials can often spot potentially dangerous practices so adjustments can be made.

Security cameras can help document proper security practices.

Another use of school security cameras involves spot checking how well school employees follow established security protocols. For example, if a school has a weapons screening station that is covered by security cameras, supervisory personnel can periodically observe security personnel to see if they are following guidelines. Documenting the results can help mitigate exposure to allegations of ineffective or inappropriate conduct by screening personnel.

Security cameras provide clarity in situations involving false allegations.

One often overlooked benefit of security cameras for K-12 schools involves their use in helping to document what did not happen. While most people realize that captured images can help prove whether or not a specific incident has taken place, security camera footage can also help disprove a blatantly false narrative created by plaintiff ’s counsel during litigation. There are instances where attorneys carefully craft a wildly inaccurate picture of a school to support claims relating to bullying, sexual assault or other forms of victimization. This most typically occurs when sufficient facts to support a strong civil case do not exist. Properly archived video can help a qualified school safety expert witness better evaluate factors such as student supervision, school climate and typical student behavior more accurately and effectively. This can be especially important for independent schools and other non-public schools lacking qualified immunity from lawsuits.

Security cameras have other more obvious benefits, as well as limitations. Many school officials are not aware of the benefits described here. Understanding these benefits can add value to their use.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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