Guest Post: Should Schools Be Installing Security Cameras In Their Classrooms?

Should Schools Be Installing Security Cameras In Their Classrooms?

Even before the mass shootings in Newtown last December, the issue of crime in schools has been a growing concern for years. Each year, the American public school system sees almost 2 million violent crimes reported, and almost 90% of all operating school systems contribute to that figure. And that figure doesn’t even take into consideration of non-violent crimes, such as theft and vandalism.

It seems, however, that Newtown was a clear tipping point for a cluster of issues, including mental health, gun control and public safety. In particular, security measures within schools have become a heated talking point, and the use of security cameras has taken a front-and center-position.

Everyone from the ACLU to SWAT officers are weighing-in on the pros and cons of the topic, so it’s worth taking a minute to assess the factors at stake in this politically sensitive policy.


The Cons

While many school administrators favor the use of thorough surveillance in the halls of their schools, many others—as well as civil liberties lawyers, parents and students—feel the installation of multiple cameras is ineffective. Indeed, some argue that it would make matters worse. In the many debates on school security cameras, a few themes emerge:

  1. The vicious circle argument.  From a psychological viewpoint, putting students under constant “Big Brother” style surveillance may reinforce the very behaviors the practice aims to discipline and punish. In other words, the mere fact of being monitored at all times might register as a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude, which only foments an atmosphere of suspicion. At the very least, many students believe, it’s hardly reinforcement to become independent, trustworthy adults.
  2. Police involvement. In the past, a mild shoving match in the hall may have been a simple matter that school authorities could handle internally. Because security cameras almost always rely on police liaisons, infractions of many kinds can automatically become criminal offenses, potentially stigmatizing youths unnecessarily and further clogging the court system
  3. Privacy issues.  Of course public schools are public property, but some legal specialists claim that surveillance cameras may infringe on students’ constitutional freedoms.
  4. Excessive cost.  A state-of-the-art surveillance set-up can cost a school to the tune of half a million dollars, and that’s not including maintenance fees. For already under-funded school districts, such a figure may not even be possible.
  5. Ineffectiveness.  Many critics claim that for crimes, such as the Newtown massacre, surveillance cameras could have done nothing to prevent it.

The Pros

Since many buildings with special security risks—such as banks or parking structures operating late at night—use security cameras with strong results, defenders of security cameras in schools claim that places of education should be no different. Additionally, surveillance advocates are likely to avow the following:

  1. Police officers do their best to keep matters out of the justice system.  Supporters of the use of surveillance system maintain that police want to keep their involvement to a minimum, and will only intervene when dealing with perpetrators who would face criminal charges, regardless of the location.
  2. The technology is neutral.  Police contacts and school authorities who rally for cameras hold that cameras are only a tool to extend the reach of administrators. In other words, the judgments made through surveillance technology ultimately come back to human eyes, and are no better—and no worse—than the humans who make them.
  3. It works. While the hard science dealing with the effectiveness of cameras in schools is still being done, reports from individual schools often weigh heavily on the side of having them. True, short-range safety protocols, such as cameras, probably can do little against conflagrations, such as Sandy Hook, but for non-violent crimes like graffiti and theft, some schools report a decrease of over 90% after cameras have been installed.

Much of the data supporting (or condemning) security cameras are still anecdotal, so obviously many more studies need to be done. Furthermore, even if camera advocates can support their claims with peer-reviewed figures, the wider debate on security vs. freedom is sure to continue. Still, as long as violence and crime continue to plague our schools, it’s best to consider every avenue of providing peace of mind for students, parents, and communities.


Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from Los Angeles and founder of Gryffin Media. Her writing covers a range of topics, including special needs law and inclusion. As a mother of three, she would want to do everything in her power to make sure her children are protected at school.