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Orange County

Cameras Patrol More Schools

Security: High-tech measures at five Orange Unified schools are for safety, officials say. Signs will be posted warning of the video surveillance.

July 29, 2002|MARJORIE HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vandals and trespassers beware: new camera systems will be rolling into five Orange Unified high schools this fall, following the lead of other school districts that have resorted to high-tech measures to ensure campus safety.

The Orange Unified School District Board of Trustees has earmarked $485,045 of its state safety grant for the cameras, which will be installed at Richland Continuation, Canyon, El Modena, Orange and Villa Park high schools in September.

School officials believe the cameras' presence will curb vandalism, gang activity, fights, theft and minor infractions, such as trespassing or skateboarding because people will know their actions are being captured.

Principal SK Johnson hopes the 27 cameras to be installed at Orange High School will prevent break-ins. Last year, vandals damaged five computers, office furniture and other supplies in the school's main office.

"If it cuts down the vandalism ... I think it would be a wise expenditure," Johnson said. "It's another set of eyes out there to help keep the school safe if something were to happen."

The cameras, which will run 24 hours, seven days a week, will have the ability to store data on CDs. Signs posted on school grounds will warn that videotaping is underway.

Privacy concerns were discussed, but school officials noted that the cameras do not have an audio track and will not be placed inside buildings. Access to the recorded footage will be controlled.

"I know how some people are going to respond to this--like Big Brother is watching," said Brent Bailey, Richland Continuation School principal. "But we are using [the cameras] to make it a safer place to go to school."

Bailey said he plans to discuss the seven cameras on the Richland campus during an assembly with the school's 300 students.

The movement for video cameras on campus grounds has increased throughout the country over the last few years in the aftermath of several high-profile school violence cases, including Columbine High School in Colorado.

Capistrano Unified has cameras on five of its campuses, with San Clemente High School installing the first cameras two years ago. The district also is considering putting video cameras in its school buses, said Dave Smollar, the district's director of communications.

Los Angeles Unified School District doesn't have a districtwide video surveillance policy, but Granada Hills and Huntington Park high schools have cameras with monitors that carry the video feeds to the offices of campus police and school administrators.

Police say the extra "eyes" on school grounds are a good investment, not only for preventing vandalism and trespassing, but also for catching and demanding restitution from those responsible for the crimes.

"Any time you can use video technology to cover your physical plant, that is a good thing to do," said Alan Kerstein, LAUSD school police chief. "You will be able to cover more ground and will make the security force much more efficient."

School officials hope the cameras will be seen as preventive tools against crime and an important source of physical evidence.

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