Break-ins, thefts and acts of vandalism have prompted officials in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to recommend that the district's aging security alarm system be revamped and that armed guards be hired to patrol campuses at night.
Rory Livingston, the district's business services administrator, told the Board of Education in a letter that the district's 17-year-old security system is "severely deficient" in detecting the presence of intruders on school grounds.
$30,000 in Damage
Last year, about $30,000 in damage resulted from a break-in at Santa Monica High School. School officials said that audio-visual equipment was smashed, chemicals from the chemistry laboratory were thrown on the floors and walls, and school property was stolen. A 17-year-old student and a 20-year-old graduate were later arrested.
The largest single incident this year occurred March 21 when vandals used baseball bats to shatter about 60 windows at Cabrillo Elementary School in Malibu. The parents of two teen-agers arrested in connection with the incident have agreed to reimburse the district $12,000, school officials said.
Livingston said that even though arrests were made in both cases, it does not mean that the alarm system is working. School officials, he added, want to capture those responsible before the damage has been done.
Livingston said the district routinely allocates about $25,000 a year to replace stolen computers, tape recorders and other educational equipment. Vandalism costs about $60,000 a year with an average of one break-in or serious act of vandalism a month.
Livingston blames much of the loss on gaps in the security system.
He said that the system is unable to provide adequate coverage because of the way it is wired. An entire school must be taken off the system whenever an event is planned or someone visits a campus after dark.
The antiquated system has also resulted in numerous false alarms. Livingston said that the district amassed more than $2,000 in police fines in six months for false alarms. Each citation costs $15.
The Santa Monica-Malibu district pays $45,000 a year to a private security alarm company, Internal Security System Inc. of Santa Monica, to operate its system. Livingston said the problem rests not with the company but with the age of the equipment. The district also pays about $40,000 a year in additional wages to employees who are asked to respond to school emergencies.
Livingston asked the board to consider replacing the system with motion detectors and other electronic devices at a cost of about $315,000. The current system operates with sound detectors.
He also recommended that a security company be hired to monitor the security system and provide armed guards who would respond to emergency calls.
Concerned About Guards
School board member Della Barrett said she was concerned about the use of armed guards on school campuses.
She said there is a difference between theft and vandalism. "They both cause losses to the district, but hopefully not the same response from an armed guard. That may not be appropriate."
School board member Bob Holbrook shared her concern. "We wouldn't want some kid who got drunk and broke into a classroom meeting an armed guard," he said.
Holbrook said that he would prefer the district hire someone to patrol the high school campus at night. "If someone patrolled the high school at night in a Jeep with the lights on, (a burglar) would think twice before breaking in," he said.