Let's say a huge brawl breaks out in a high school parking lot. Next year, police won't just respond, they'll be able to monitor what's going on while they're responding -- on their smartphones.
That's one benefit of Northwest Suburban High School District 214's plan to spend $1 million upgrading some of their 1,000 security cameras and related software, with half the cost paid for by a federal grant.
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The difference between the two systems is huge, and not just because police will be able to monitor situations in real time. If a hit-and-run accident took place in a parking lot today, officials would be able see how many cars were involved. But with the new system, they'd be able to get license plates.
It's like going from a black-and-white television to a high definition 4D set, said Associate Superintendent of Operations and Finance Debra Parenti.
"What we have now is very, very old," she said. "We have seven 40-acre campuses that are used seven days a week by a lot of people. There is a lot going on."
District 214 applied this week for the Community Oriented Policing Grant, which is issued by the United States Department of Justice. The high school district could find out in 90 days if they will receive $500,000. If they do, cameras will be upgraded in phases starting in 2012, beginning with Rolling Meadows High School, the campus with the oldest equipment.
Security cameras have been in place at District 214 schools for years and the district currently has them inside and outside of all its schools, including the parking lots and common areas, Parenti said.
Prospect High School installed cameras in 2001, said Pat Monti, Prospect's Dean of Students.
"At first everyone was all concerned about 'Big Brother' watching them but it's not like that," Monti said. "They just make everyone safer."
Monti said something is reviewed on the tape "almost daily," but it's not always crimes they're reviewing. For example, a student came into Monti's office on Tuesday to report that her bicycle had been stolen. But when they reviewed the tapes of the bicycle rack, they saw the student's brother unlock the bike and ride it home, Monti said.
"It relieved her anxiety immediately," she said.
Besides upgrading software, the project will add a few more cameras.
"The police and district officials will see whatever the cameras are seeing, but they don't need to be on-site," Parenti said. "If police want to monitor something from the police department, they can. And everything will be password protected. Anyone with access will have to have the proper codes."
Watching a crime unfold in real time means a lot to police, especially in lockdown situations, like if a student had a gun in a school, said Wheeling Deputy Police Chief John Teevans.
"We'd be able to see where the person is moving, who else in is the building, those kinds of things," Teevans said. "This technology is available. There's no reason why we shouldn't use it. We've been trying to work with the schools to improve things for a while."
When Wheeling High School and police conduct drills now, the video sometimes locks up or is too hard to see, Teevans said.