California District Balances Security and Privacy Concerns

California District Balances Security and Privacy Concerns

The cameras would be installed near the main entrances and offices, pedestrian gates and building entrances and exits on campuses. The cameras aim to identify those involved in illegal or unauthorized activity and to identify visitors on campuses where remote authorized entry is required.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education plans to add security cameras around campus perimeters and require visitors to check in via an ID verification system. The measures are intended to increase security on the district’s campuses.

The cameras would be installed near the main entrances and offices, pedestrian gates and building entrances and exits on campuses. The cameras aim to identify those involved in illegal or unauthorized activity and to identify visitors on campuses where remote authorized entry is required.

The cameras’ footage would not be regularly monitored but would be retained for an undisclosed period of time in case it is needed to identify events. Some devices would have real-time viewing available.

The camera system, which is estimated to cost about $1.2 million, would be funded by two bonds.

“Any time you go into a court, or somewhere where we think people are important, you go through these checks and cameras. Our students are the most important people out there and there is nowhere secure on campus unless you have these measures in place,” Superintendent Ben Drati said. “Cameras multiply our eyes. We’re not funded to have enough security guards to cover every corner.”

The ID system would check visitors against various watch lists for safety, such as a sex offender database. It would record who visitors are and why they are on campus, and print a photo ID badge for that visitor. “Right now, if you go to a school, you see a notebook with a piece of paper and you sign your name in and where you’re going,” chief operating officer Carey Upton said. “It’s not the most secure system.”

For those without a government-issued ID, the district would issue an internal ID. According to Upton, school staff could confirm the identity of a visiting parent. In other cases, or if a visitor is flagged as part of a watch list, the school may send someone to accompany the visitor as they go through the campus.

District staff is recommending that the district purchase the Raptor System for each campus. The Raptor System would cost $50,000 to install districtwide and $7,500 annually to license.  

At a meeting Feb. 21, SMMUSD school board members said the upgrades to security would increase safety for students but acknowledged that the technology raised privacy and school culture concerns. However, some school board members also said they felt the technology would make schools safer without making campuses feel too militarized.

“I don’t believe it’s possible to secure our campuses 100 percent, and I think the steps to do that would be so onerous as to seriously harm the educational effort,” said board member Craig Foster. “I think perimeter security is the smartest and best thing we can do because our goal is to keep anyone off campus who doesn’t belong and be as much as possible fully permeable to people with reasons to be on campus.”

According to Upton, staff will return to the school board next month to present two more safety measures: electronic locks that would lock the campus down immediately during an active shooter situation and a modernized public announcement system.