School Security Cameras: Friend or Foe?

Are School Security Cameras a Good Fit for Your Schools?

Many of our school security assessment projects involve client requests to either evaluate their current school security camera systems or to help them determine if they should add a school security system for the first time. A number of these projects involve questions of whether a school organization should install security cameras in schools that lack cameras. Like many of the school security technologies we are asked to evaluate, there is not a correct and absolute answer for school security cameras. There are a range of competing safety, security and emergency preparedness needs that should be evaluated in relation to one another. This can make it rather dangerous to assume a one-size-fits-all approach which assumes that every school needs additional security cameras, fencing, metal detectors, or security personnel.

For example, during a recent school security assessment project, we determined that the client did not have a viable student threat evaluation approach or suicide prevention strategy. We found numerous instances where relatively inexpensive upgrades could significantly improve safety, security and emergency preparedness. For the cost of a few dozen good quality security cameras, almost each of these significant opportunities for improvement could be addressed. At the same time, our team determined that a million dollars’ worth of security cameras would likely not reduce danger as much as these less expensive strategies. Though we advised the client that a new security camera system would be well worth the cost, the priority for funding should go to the other opportunities for improvement.

In other cases, our analysts have found school security camera upgrades to be a high priority option for consideration. While many people question the value of school security cameras, our experience has been that they can help dramatically improve school safety, security and even emergency preparedness when they are utilized properly in many situations. For example, our analysts found that a large public school system in an affluent community with a low crime rate would benefit from a new security camera system for its high and middle schools because administrators were spending an inordinate amount of time investigating situations involving interpersonal conflict between students.

One important point relating to school security cameras is that they often capture the truth. This can be a major asset for schools with good supervision and where staff follow school security procedures. At the same time, school security camera systems are often very good at documenting instances of poor student supervision or unsafe school parking lot traffic conditions. When school security cameras capture blatantly dangerous situations, captured images can quickly turn into “exhibit A” during litigation or in media coverage of a school safety event. In addition, there are cases where security cameras can capture distinct segments of activity that are not representative of the overall situation. Rather than portraying the truth, these instances can result in an inaccurate and sometimes damaging picture of safety at a school.

For these and other reasons, we advise our clients to work diligently to utilize excellent security camera technology when possible. We also advise them to be sure to expend a reasonable effort to achieve positive human safety, security and emergency preparedness practices whether or not they have funding for good security camera systems.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.