New security camera systems for Chicago Public Schools

By Gregory Cappis

The Chicago Public School system is installing more security cameras at local high schools, building on the successes of the cameras at a troubled South Side school.

High-tech security cameras, costing $7 million, are scheduled to be operating by the end of the school year at 14 additional high schools with large volumes of past arrests and misconduct cases.

Christian Fenger Academy High School, 11220 S. Wallace Ave., piloted the high-definition camera system last year. Arrests subsequently declined by 69 percent and the school experienced zero false fire alarms, according to a CPS press release. Fenger made national news in 2009 when a video of student Derrion Albert being killed in a brawl outside of the building appeared on the Internet.

The 14 high schools slated to receive the cameras this year will join Solorio Academy and South Shore High School, whose cameras have already been installed, according to a CPS press release.

CPS is working to install the cameras as soon as possible.

“There’s a fair amount of work that has to go into doing this because of the technology involved,” said Frank Shuftan, CPS


It takes time to mount and wire the cameras to the different networks and lay fiber optic cable, he added.

The new digital cameras will be added to a system that currently has more than 7,000 analogue cameras in 268 schools.

Although there is some debate as to whether this is the best way for the financially burdened school district to spend money, Donald Feinstein, executive director of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, believes spending the money on security is necessary.

“In an ideal world, you would like to spend your money on other things,” Feinstein said. “Unless you have an orderly climate and culture where adults and children feel safe and protected, none of the other monies will be of any benefit.”

Eitan Schwarz, clinical assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, believes the cameras are a good way to make

schools safer.

“I think it may prevent some impulsive people who are not necessarily bad, but if they know that they are being watched they are less likely to do impulsive things that would get them into trouble,” Schwarz said.

CPS will attempt to keep kids from misbehaving by monitoring the cameras all day and night. The cameras will be monitored by the School Safety and Security office at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark St.

The Chicago Police Department, the Office of Emergency Management and Communication and individual schools will be able to tap into the cameras’ feed, according to Shuftan.

“The whole idea is to create a network so that different departments can access information in real time,” he said.

Schwarz said he thinks children expect grown-ups to watch over them, but he warned of the dangers if the video fell into the wrong hands.

“The recording and the images have to remain private and secure, and in the hands of people who are responsible and not with people who would hurt

children or take advantage of them,”

he said.

Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University, said she sees the cameras as a good preventative measure.

“They give people a daily reminder and a reassurance,” Radner said. “The best deterrent would be for us to get rid of the gangs.”

She believes coordination between police, community groups, schools and gangs is the best solution for the violence plaguing Chicago high schools. She thinks another $7 million needs to be spent on coalitions for a more peaceful community to get to the problem’s root instead of counteracting it.

Along with the cameras, Fenger implemented other safety initiatives to help thwart violence through discussions between children and administrators.

Nicole Garcia, a 15-year-old Rosewood High School student, offered her opinion for ways to help stop the violence.

“They could create more after school programs,” Garcia said.

Schwarz agreed with her. He said schools have to have good after school programs and hallway monitoring.

Bullies and perpetrators need to be caught and punished in a reasonable way to stop them from becoming lifelong criminals, Schwarz said.

“There are studies that show that kids who are bullies tend to be wife-beaters or spouse-beaters,” he added.

A police state doesn’t need to be created, but it is necessary to address schools with high-end needs, Feinstein said.

“You shouldn’t have to go to school and be a victim of violence or crime,” he said. “That’s not the American Dream.”