Catching the Thugs - The San Diego Unified School District’s previous video surveillance solution presented a number of problems. It required two management servers in which most settings had to be replicated between the two, which was awkward and cumbersome.

Catching the Thugs

San Diego schools de-escalate incident and protect assets

The San Diego Unified School District’s previous video surveillance solution presented a number of problems. It required two management servers in which most settings had to be replicated between the two, which was awkward and cumbersome. Programming cameras required navigating two operating systems. Training administrators and end users on the old technology required a lot of time, as did making district-wide updates.

As an organization that depends on voters’ support for bond funding, the investment in Milestone technology was made with an eye toward cost effectiveness. Milestone has paid off by dramatically reducing the amount of time required to administer the system and to train users and by reducing the vandalism that requires costly repairs. It delivers further savings by reducing the number of staff members required to physically monitor so many areas.

According to district administrators, the system has improved conduct across the board by providing high-definition (HD) images that make identifying and, when appropriate, charging perpetrators a much less arduous process than it was before the installation of the Milestone software.

“This system makes each campus safer for students and staff,” said Mike Cho, safety and security coordinator at San Diego Unified School District. “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.”

Institutional Profile

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 schools, 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.

An organization with more than 200 facilities, San Diego USD 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.

Meeting Tough Demands

To select a video surveillance solution that best met its requirements, San Diego USD worked closely with Dotworkz, a San Diego-based company, Milestone 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 their 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 USD. 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,” Ferris said. “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.”

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. Cameras were placed strategically in the most problematic areas.

Improved Behavior: Reduction in Vandalism

“Since they’ve noticed that they’re being monitored, the students’ behavior has improved,” Cho said. “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 graffiti. By covering graffiti more quickly, the “cat-and-mouse” approach many gangs take to painting over the graffiti of a rival gang has been curtailed. By removing graffiti, the chances of a rival gang coming to mark the territory as its own have been lowered, as has the violence that often occurs when opposing groups encounter each other at the graffiti site.

Reduced Break-ins

Thanks 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 software system because it can be more easily and quickly managed. Under the previous system, programming one camera required navigating two separate operating systems. Milestone cuts that time in half.

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

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

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 as well as 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 Thoroughly

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

“Nobody wants to be known as a ‘snitch,’” Cho said. “Thanks to the system we have installed, 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

Pleased 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.

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

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Security Today.

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