Security for All
Detroit schools reduce theft, vandalism with proven security solution despite tight budget
- By Keith Jentoft
- Jan 04, 2010
Detroit public schools have been contending
with nearly insurmountable financial issues
and declining enrollment that is believed to be
the trickle-down effect of the poor economy.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed an
emergency financial manager to fix the district's
finances, which led to the closing of
29 schools and the massive overhaul of others.
Rampant theft and vandalism demanded an immediate solution to protect the
vacant buildings and property under renovation. Budget realities meant traditional
CCTV surveillance systems were simply too expensive. DPS wanted something different
than watching video recordings of yesterday's crimes; they wanted to stop the
losses, catch the criminals in the act and send a message to the community that
things were improving.
Detroit Public Schools is one of the larger school systems in the country, with more than
190 schools and 90,000 students. Despite the fact that the district has its own police
force, there simply are not enough officers to cover all the buildings.
Their vacant property and schools in the process of being renovated became magnets
for crime. While vandalism has always been an issue, things escalated to an
unprecedented scale. Thieves were targeting the utility room and would cut all power
and communications lines. Groups of men systematically "mined" the closed school
buildings for copper and anything of value, including plumbing fixtures and lighting.
Sledgehammers were used to break large holes in the walls to remove sections of
copper pipe. Heating and plumbing fittings were cut away, and wiring was ripped from
The crimes increased to the point that in certain buildings, DPS was forced to post its
own officers to spend nights patrolling inside the buildings. DPS had used surveillance
cameras and DVRs to secure some buildings, but these systems cost more than
$100,000 per school and did a poor job preventing vandalism.
In most instances, videos were reviewed after the damage had been done with few
intruders identified—and even fewer arrested. With finances tight, school officials
thought finding effective and affordable solutions and catching the perpetrators
Under pressure from mounting damage and potential liability, Mark K. Schrupp, the
district's executive director of facilities management and auxiliary services, began
researching various options and discovered a wireless video security system called
Videofied that seemed promising. With this system, the goal was not only providing
high-resolution video but arresting intruders. In addition, securing a building with the
Videofied system was affordable.
Battery-powered MotionViewers are the key to the system. They are wireless
devices equivalent to the size of a coffee cup that combine a passive infrared motion
detector with a digital camera and illuminators for night vision. The cordless Videofied
system functions for up to four years on a set of batteries in normal use. When a vandal
trips the sensor, the MotionViewer sends a 10-second clip of the intrusion over the
cell network to the central station for immediate review and dispatch. DPS liked the
fact that the system could be installed anywhere, regardless of AC power or broadband
Another valued feature was the ability to move viewers as needs evolved in the district.
DPS sought proposals from reputable integrators and chose D/A Central Inc. of
Oak Park, Mich., which is part of the PSA Security Network, a national organization of
top security integrators.
As part of the contract, D/A Central conducted the site surveys, coordinated the
installation and provided monitoring of the completed systems.
"We were concerned, however, that a single panel/hub would not provide sufficient
radio range in these large school properties," said Dave Shelton, president of D/A
Central. "Would we need multiple systems in each school?"
Sending a Message
Within two weeks of receiving the contract, the first systems went live.
"The performance of the Videofied wireless has been outstanding," said Jake Purcell,
project manager for D/A Central. "Except for one property, we have been able to
cover every school with a single wireless panel, using a battery-powered communicator
with a cell modem."
Within three days of installation, the new system proved to be effective.
On a Wednesday night, six youths broke in a school carrying sledgehammers. The
MotionViewer instantly sent a 10-second video clip of the intrusion to D/A Central's
monitoring station; the operator saw the intruders and dispatched police, who arrested
Two more break-ins occurred the following week. Each time, the central station operator
saw the intruders via the video clip and police were dispatched.
In the first four weeks, DPS made more than 45 arrests.
DPS has demonstrated that success is possible on a budget. They are expanding
Videofied into other areas of the school system to address security concerns. Law
enforcement strongly supports the solution, and they are publicizing the arrests to
send a message to the surrounding community.
"Don't steal here, or we will catch you and prosecute to the fullest extent of the
law." Shelton said.