San Diego Schools De-Escalate Incidents, Protect Assets and Catch Perpetrators

This system makes each campus safer for students and staff.  We now have the level of visual communication we need to resolve most problems before they arise. When we do have incidents, we’re able to de-escalate situations more quickly than we could before. – Mike Cho, Safety and Security Coordinator, San Diego Unified School District.

Founded in 1854, San Diego Unified School District is now the second largest in the state of California. More than 132,000 students representing 15 ethnic groups and more than 60 languages/dialects attend 226 educational facilities. This includes 117 traditional elementary schools, nine K-8 school, 25 traditional middle schools, 24 high schools, 49 charter schools and 14 alternative schools. The district has 13,559 employees, including more than 6,500 teachers.

With more than 200 facilities, San Diego Unified School District sought a video surveillance technology solution that could be centrally administered, but also provide HD quality images critical to more effectively managing behavior and preventing vandalism at locations throughout the district. A system that could expand in the future and accommodate additions such as the access control technology the district hopes to deploy within one or two years was also high on the wish list.

Milestone Open Platform Meets Tough Demands

San Diego SchoolsTo select a video surveillance solution that best met its requirements, San Diego Unified School District worked closely with Dotworkz, a San Diego-based Milestone Network Video Recorder (NVR) partner with more than 15 years of experience producing outdoor camera protection solutions and, more recently, software-ready NVR machines in a wide array of sizes.

Proshop Group’s team with Dotworkz consulted with the school district on systems integration, putting Milestone XProtect at the heart of the deployment. Based on industry experience, the consulting team, along with Dotworkz president Will Ferris, believes that Milestone’s open platform provides the greatest value in areas most important to San Diego Unified School District. Those include scalability, the ability to incorporate new functionality and an enhanced level of safety and security for parents, students and teachers.

Our role was simple. We helped the district in its quest for better camera and processing technology. We served as a guide, showing them the advantages of Milestone’s open platform over what’s offered by other vendors. We advised them to complete the training required to become certified in the technology. We also built the network video recorder and housings for their external cameras. -Will Ferris, President, Dotworkz

The school district is licensed for 2,000 cameras. It currently operates 1,169 units manufactured by Axis, Bosch, IQinVision, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. The cameras are installed at points where break-ins commonly occur and in areas where students gather. With the exception of a computer lab, cameras are not installed in classrooms. They are, however, placed strategically in the most problematic areas.

Improved Behavior: Reduction in Vandalism and Break-ins

“Since they’ve noticed that they’re being monitored, the students’ behavior has improved,” says Cho. “They know that every action occurring in the common areas is being recorded.”

One of the most dramatic examples of improved behavior is the reduction in vandalism. At the school that once had the worst graffiti problem, tagging has been reduced by 80 percent since the cameras went live, which has also lessened the amount of time district painters spend at the school covering the tagging. And, by covering it more quickly, the “cat-and-mouse” approach many gangs take to painting over the graffiti of a rival gang has been curtailed. Timely removal reduces the chances of a rival gang coming to mark the territory as its own, as has the violence that often occurs when opposing groups encounter each other at the site.

Photo credit Justin CampbellThanks to the increasing role of technology in education, classrooms have become popular targets for break-ins because each one houses expensive equipment. The district’s current surveillance policy considers classrooms private areas, so nearly all of them are free of cameras. However, the points of entry into buildings are captured and recorded by the Milestone system, which has led to a reduction in break-ins.

Improved System Management

Cho reports that the system manager loves the Milestone deployment because it can be more easily and quickly managed. Previously, programming one camera required navigating two separate operating systems. Milestone cuts that time in half.

I can view it with my iPad! With the previous system there was enough time to go get coffee between starting it and being able to log on. With Milestone, you just click and you’re on. It’s beautiful. – Mike Cho

Improved Incident Response

“As the grand finale for a bond measure that voters passed, we built a beautiful new school,” Cho says. “It’s huge. It takes up an entire block, like four schools in one.”

From a security perspective, the problem with such a large campus is that it is not unusual for a fight to break out while the school’s one dedicated police officer is responding to a different incident in another area. With 50 cameras and the Milestone platform at work, the officer can use the images to determine how many back-up officers are needed at which spots.

Adherence to Policy Secures Video Data

As a public entity, Cho feels it was important to be transparent about who has access to the video surveillance system.

“We put together a policy that prevents it from being used inappropriately,” he says.

In most instances, the officers based in the school and the site administrator are the only people who have access to a building’s recordings. At the organizational level, the district’s firewall prevents people outside of the system from logging in. In the case of an emergency, control of the system can be transferred to a command vehicle. Should infractions occur, they can be addressed quickly.

“The beauty of Milestone is that we know who has logged in and when,” says Cho. “It’s transparent.”

Prosecuting More Accurately and More Thoroughly

Students don’t always tell the full story after an incident.

“Nobody wants to be known as a ‘snitch,’” Cho says. “Thanks to the Milestone-based system, nobody has to be because the video shows all.”

And thanks to the HD video, precision is a matter of course.

“HD really helps us identify people,” Cho says.

In one case, a student punched another student in the face a number of times. Each witness interviewed by administrators after the incident had slightly different recollections, but the video provided the evidence needed to charge the perpetrator. When it was used in court, the young woman was found guilty.

Integrating Cameras with Card Access

San Diego SchoolsPleased with the reliability and effectiveness of the Milestone-based system, Cho is planning to integrate card access functionality at locations throughout the district. By integrating with technology provided by Continental Access, Cho’s goal is for access to be granted or denied based on whether or not the photo on the person’s ID matches the image recorded by video camera at the point of entry. Currently, the comparison is made manually, but Cho expects the functionality, which would eliminate the use of invalid IDs, to be fully integrated and automated in the future.

“Milestone has given us a lot of tools. We are very confident in our ability to integrate with card access technology, and much more in the future.” – Mike Cho

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