Baltimore County officials gathered Tuesday to unveil $3.7 million in school security improvements, including a OneView camera system that will make security footage available in real time to county police as well as to the county schools' Department of School Safety and Security.
During a press conference held at the Baltimore County Public Safety Building, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz called the camera system as well as other improvements at county schools "a series of proactive measures" taken to enhance safety in county schools.
"We know first-hand the terror of Columbine hitting home on the first day of school last year at Perry Hall High School, when a student opened fire in the cafeteria, critically injuring another student," Kamenetz said, referring to the Aug. 27, 2012, shooting at the school that injured 17-year-old special needs student, Daniel Borowy. Student Robert W. Gladden Jr. was sentenced to 35 years in prison in February.
"In the days after that shooting, Chief [Jim] Johnson and I had a series of conversations about what we could do to enhance and reassure and reinforce school safety, but at the same time [be] reassuring to our students, to our faculty and to our parents, that schools in Baltimore County are, in fact, safe," Kamenetz said.
As part of the $3.7 million initiative, all 173 county schools were outfitted with a baseline of security devices last summer. Administrators checked schools for possible security deficiencies, such as doors that didn't lock or unmonitored entrances, which were then repaired. And in advance of the 2013 school year, electronic ID scanners and video cameras were installed at each school's entrance.
The OneView system, which was installed at the county's 107 elementaries, features at least three security cameras at each school. Police will be able to view live footage from precincts, command centers, mobile devices, and in their vehicles through a secure county network, Kamenetz said.
County police demonstrated how easily they could access the software for media and dignitaries at the press conference. Using the computer application, officers can select a school from a list, bring up the school's floor plans, and select to watch up to six camera feeds at one time.
Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said the school system's collaboration with county government and the police department ensured students could learn in a safe, comfortable environment.
"We talk about academics for Baltimore County Public Schools, but if the safety aspect is not there for our students and our families, nothing else, will in fact, matter," Dance said. "So our parents entrust us to do the right thing for their young people when they send them to school, and they expect to get them home safely as well."
Kamenetz said $1 million of the funds for the security upgrades came from the county's speed camera coffers, while the remaining $2.7 million was from general funds. Future security measures will add the OneView system to middle and high schools, and could be extended to Recreation and Parks facilities as well, he said.
Johnson said his department currently already spends $8 million annually on placing School Resource Officers in every school, but said the camera systems were a "force multiplier" to help enhance the work of those officers.
Johnson said the program could help a School Resource Officer be in one place in the school while monitoring another, and the cameras could also have an impact on student behavior.
Kamenetz and Johnson used Tueday's media briefing to also announce a second video crime prevention initiative outside of school safety: between 12 and 15 portable video cameras which would be placed in communities where police are targetting crime.
Johnson said the cameras would be installed in areas where precincts are seeing certain crime trends. Some of the cameras will be pole-mounted, while two others will be mounted on vehicles, officials said. The footage would be saved to a digital video recorder and streamable on certain police mobile devices.
Startup costs for the portable video cameras is $260,000, with all but $110,000 of that funded by federal Homeland Security funds, officials said in a press release.