CPS to install 50-80 security cameras

July 25, 2011 2:43:25 PM PDT
Despite a large budget deficit, Chicago Public Schools plans to spend $7 million to install security cameras at more than a dozen of its schools.

The cameras beam images directly to the Chicago Police Department and are being installed at the schools with the most security issues, according to CPS officials, to create a safer environment for the nation's third largest school district. More than 40,000 students are enrolled in CPS, which has a $612 million deficit. Eighty security cameras are being installed in 14 troubled high schools.

Fenger High School students Vada Weatherspoon and Shavell Lucus don't mind that Big Brother is watching.

"It gives us a sense of security, like, won't nothing bad happen since the camera is right there," Lucus said.

Those cameras have been at the South Side high school for the last year. Fenger was one of the pilot locations where Chicago Public Schools first installed the security camera program. In 2009, Fenger High School honor student Derrion Albert was beaten to death.

"They have a lot of programs to help us stay out of trouble, get us to do other things than be on the street. Like now, I was on my way to student leadership," Weatherspoon said.

Fenger now has more than three dozen high-tech security cameras both inside and outside the school building. Since they were installed, the cameras are credited with a 79-percent drop in arrests, a 59-percent decrease in misconduct as well as an increase in standardized tests scores.

Principal Elizabeth Dozier says the cameras are just one element necessary for success in troubled schools like Fenger.

"If you only use them in a reactive way, what's that really going to do? It's like this puzzle piece. You have to have all of those to see the numbers that we've seen. They're dramatic," Dozier said.

The proposed state-of-the-art system would place 50 to 80 cameras in high schools. Those images could be viewed by the nearest police station, CPS, OEMC and by officials on their cell phones.

Richard Beckwith doesn't agree with the $7 million plan. He said, "It seems like an intrusion on the children's privacy."

Two other schools are also part of the pilot system and 14 others will get the cameras, including Dun Bar Career Academy, where Destiny Riggs is a junior.

"I never heard of them putting cameras in here, but good thing they're staring it now," Riggs said.

The schools are Clemente, Hyde Park, Sullivan, Morgan Park, Orr, Marshall, Dunbar, Tilden, Bogan, Wells, Senn, Juarez, Julian and Farragut.

School officials say the new security cameras at Fenger High School are already paying off -- by helping police arrest a suspect in several burglaries there.

There's also a proposal to reduce the number of police officers at the schools slated to get the surveillance system. Those officers would return to the streets.

That proposal has had been met with mixed reactions as some people see the police presence as a chance to build positive relationships between students and officials, as well as more security.

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