The School Year in Pictures: A Survey of 40 School Districts in Texas Takes an In-Depth Look at the Use of Surveillance Cameras

Article excerpt

Camera surveillance systems are becoming increasingly prevalent in schools, especially at the high school level. Is this a good use of a school district's limited financial resources? To learn more about how and why school districts use surveillance systems, the author undertook a research project looking at how the use of camera systems is increasing in public schools, the influence of cost on camera use, and whether actual or perceived crime is affected.

Information was gathered in three ways: through a written questionnaire, through visits to several schools, and through interviews with school administrators, systems vendors, and law enforcement officials.

SURVEY. For the first phase of the study, the author sent 107 questionnaires via e-mail to school districts throughout the state of Texas, randomly selected from the state's 20 Regional Education Service Centers. (Not all centers are represented in the results, however, because, within certain centers, no districts returned completed surveys.) Also, the author distributed surveys to school administrators and police officers at various seminars and training sessions throughout Texas. Forty completed surveys were returned.

Use and cost. Of the 40 responding districts, 30 indicated that they used cameras in at least some schools; nine of the remaining ten said they were considering them. All nine indicated that cost was the primary reason why they did not have cameras. (The other district indicated that it did not perceive a need for cameras.)

Also considered were the grade levels at which cameras are used: Cameras were most often installed at high schools (66 percent of respondents with cameras used them at this level). Use at junior high schools ranked second (50 percent), while use at intermediate and elementary levels (6.66 percent each) was significantly lower.

Reason for installation. Twenty-three districts listed crime as one of the primary reasons for having cameras, and 12 listed it as the only reason. Similarly, the nine districts that said they did not have cameras but had considered them named crime prevention as one of their motivations; for five of the nine, it was their only reason. Other reasons cited as instrumental in the decision to install cameras included their unobtrusiveness, ease of use, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness when compared with other options (such as increased personnel).

Technology. The survey also sought to determine the extent to which cameras were combined with other technologies: specifically, whether audio or metal detectors were simultaneously used.

Twenty-three of the school districts with cameras did not use audio in conjunction with cameras. Only four districts had incorporated audio, and three had considered it an option.

Additionally, 37 percent of respondents with cameras used metal detectors; 30 percent used both only in some schools; 33 percent did not use metal detectors at all.

A follow-up question asked whether the use of metal detectors was daily or random. Of the 20 districts with metal detectors and cameras, only one district said that usage was daily; the others indicated that their use was random.

Placement. Another survey question addressed the placement of cameras within schools. Almost all districts use them in hallways and cafeterias and at entrances. In addition, cameras monitored parking lots in 25 of the 30 districts with cameras. Four had placed cameras in classrooms. Assorted other locations were mentioned, such as libraries, restroom entrances, and administrative offices.

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Effectiveness. The survey asked a series of questions regarding crime statistics and perceptions to assess the impact of the cameras on crime. Eighteen of the 30 districts with cameras kept crime statistics before and after cameras were installed. Sixteen of the 30 districts said that overall crime levels were lowered by the camera installation; ten were uncertain; and four said they were not affected. …

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