Knowing your kids are safe at school is an obvious priority for every parent but is the district doing enough and where are the gaps? Contact 13 examines whether our schools are making the grade on safety.
From 19 years ago at Columbine to February in Parkland, Florida--the need to secure our schools is clear. But we've learned an essential and basic part of Clark County's security system is leaving the staff and students' safety in a blind spot.
Besides the horrible tragedies that shock our entire nation, serious incidents in schools take place all too often.
"Last year, I had two police officers that were hospitalized due to student violence." El Dorado High School Principal David Wilson has seen it all.
"In the last 2 weeks, I've had to Legal-2000 two different students who were making threats to shoot up my school," Wilson says.
Security cameras have long been an obvious tool to deter wrongdoing and investigate crimes
Sources tell Contact 13 there are about 14,000 cameras placed in 357 schools and other district facilities.
But there's a major problem as we saw at El Dorado High.
Darcy: "Why do we have all those blank screens?"
Principal Wilson: "Because the technology is so old, we don't have enough RAM to keep all of the pictures up at all times."
We also saw one camera was stuck in a ratcheting, zoom-in/zoom-out mode. Another gets repeatedly knocked out of position by the wind, or on its own, looking at the mountains instead of the school parking lot.
One of the biggest problems with school security cameras is that in many schools in the district, they're analog. That means they're old, outdated, the images are grainy and when they break, in many cases they can't be fixed.
"If I'm monitoring what's happening in the parking lot or what's happening out on our fields," Principal Wilson asks, "Do you have any detail? Can you see anything? If you had somebody entering or exiting a vehicle to try to see what they're carrying in or out? There's no clarity at all to the system."
While that makes it more difficult to prevent a tragedy, Detective Matt Caldwell from the CCSD Police Officer's union says it also limits investigations.
"We can easily ID a person if we have a recognizable image of their face, right?" says Caldwell. "But right now, some of the cameras don't do that for us."
Trustee Kevin Child says that's not acceptable in this age of low cost, hi-resolution digital cameras.
"We've failed. And that's an F. And we need them better," says Child.
Documents obtained by Contact 13 show an estimated $320 million for a total upgrade.
Child says it's a small price to protect our children.
Darcy: "As it stands right now, how valuable is your security system with this camera set up?"
Principal Wilson: "It's negligible."
The district declined to talk to us on camera. They also didn't answer one of the most fundamental questions for this story: how many cameras in the system are not working?
Instead, they provided the following statement from Capt. Ken Young, CCSD Police Department:
“The safety of students and staff is Clark County School District’s number one priority. CCSD leadership and School Police continually work to ensure our students and employees are safe at school.
“Our school security cameras were installed at different times, based on when funding was available, so some systems are older than others. CCSD does our best to repair security cameras as soon as we hear about system concerns. All cameras are connected to our main security system so that School Police can tap into the videos when needed.
“We recognize the importance of security cameras to help monitor situations on campuses, but it’s important to note that security cameras are an additional tool to our overall security district plan. Given CCSD’s extremely limited financial resources, we are currently having conversations about what are the most effective investments we can make to prevent violence on our campuses.”
“We also know that one of the best ways to increase school safety on campuses is to place more adults on each campus - whether they are police officers, counselors, psychologists, teachers, or a combination of all. We will have that conversation with our community and the Legislature before the 2019 session.
“By increasing the number of adults on campus, CCSD can decrease class sizes and allow our staff to have more interaction with students to identify possible situations and prevent them before they occur.
"Additionally, the district is fortunate to have one of the most efficient school police departments in the nation that is comprised of highly dedicated professionals who deliver excellent services to our campuses daily. The consistent presence of our armed school police officers is a crime deterrent, and is an additional avenue and resource to students who often provide officers with information that stops the illegal behavior from occurring.”
The District also provided this statement from CCSD Chief Operating Officer Rick Neal:
“Estimates provided by the Security Systems Department indicate replacing security cameras with the latest technology could run into several million dollars in capital expense. Additionally, funds would need to be allocated for installation, connection to our district system, maintenance, storage, and staffing.
“The Board of School Trustees have approved a capital plan for our bond funds that identify the needs of the district, especially to restore older school buildings and ease overcrowding. An upgrade to our camera security system would cost millions of dollars, but our capital plan can be modified based on what Trustees prioritize.
And as a follow up the District says cameras are not a quick fix and refers to research that "...shows the need for a more complex and comprehensive conversation about improving school safety..."
[CCSD] would like to point out research from the National Association of School Psychologists that looked at the impact of security measures on violence, in their "School Security Measures and Their Impact on Students" report.
Two points that may be of interest to your story:
"The report found there is no clear evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence, and little is known about the potential for unintended consequences that may accompany their adoption."
"Surveillance cameras in schools may have the effect of simply moving misbehavior to places in schools or outside of schools that lack surveillance. Even more troubling, it's possible that cameras may function as enticement to large-scale violence, such as in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter who mailed video images of himself to news outlets."