When hundreds of students return to school next month, they can smile and wave: They’ll be on candid camera.
Durango School District 9-R is spending $365,000 on video surveillance systems to improve the district’s response to emergencies, intruders and behavior problems.
“We’re in a cultural shift right now, and we need to do what’s best for kids,” said Kathy Morris, the district’s safety and security coordinator.
The shift will create more accountability for students and staff, she said.
Funding for the surveillance system came from a $1.1 million state grant that will also provide funding for school training, ballistic window film and secure greeting areas.
The cameras inside and outside the schools will provide live video feeds to Morris at the 9-R administrative office and to security officers at schools, she said. The feeds will enable a faster response to an emergency, she said.
“It’s really important to be able to see live feed, where an incident is happening and what is going on,” she said.
Although the cameras will help locate an intruder, they will be used mainly to respond to behavior problems, such as bullying, vandalism and fighting, Morris said.
Schools plan to use video footage to facilitate conversations with students, asking them to explain behavior captured on video to better understand the situation, she said. In the case of a criminal act or a behavioral problem, schools also would investigate relevant evidence, such as statements from victims and witnesses, she said.
All video footage will be stored for a couple of weeks before it is deleted, she said. The footage of bad behavior or criminal acts would be saved as long as necessary and might be shared with law enforcement or other emergency responders, she said.
The systems will be installed this summer in Escalante and Miller middle schools, in time for the new school year, she said.
Over the next two years, systems will be installed in all district elementary schools, Durango Big Picture High School and the Durango 9-R Transportation Bus Barn.
Durango High School’s existing surveillance cameras will be integrated into the system, Morris said.
The new cameras will be installed in hallways, cafeterias and other areas where students and staff congregate, she said. Cameras will not be installed in classrooms, she said.
The number of cameras will vary based on the size and location of the school, she said.
Morris said she relied in part on the expertise of Littleton Public School’s staff in Douglas County to help design 9-R’s system.
Littleton schools have used cameras since 2002 to deter burglaries and behavioral problems, and they have reduced vandalism by 90%, said Guy Grace, the district’s director of security and emergency planning. He also is the chairman of the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, a group that helps schools implement best practices in security.
In one case, the cameras helped the district spot a funnel cloud before the National Weather Service put out an alert, he said. Most of the time, though, Littleton schools use surveillance for low-level problems, such as parking lot fender-benders.
“If you are using it right, you are going to use it every day,” he said.
Still, video surveillance leaves gaps in security.
For example, a video that lacks audio can make it difficult to detect the difference between a real gun and an airsoft gun, which shoots nonlethal plastic pellets, he said.
Districts also need to implement good policy for video surveillance so it’s not misused, he said.
“Cameras are there to protect us as a society, not to be a tattletale,” he said.