District 25 allowing police access to school cameras — but only in an emergency

Arlington Heights police will be able to tap into cameras at the seven elementary schools and two middle schools of Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, but only during an emergency response, under agreements finalized this week.

The unanimous approval by the village board follows similar action by the school board last month, and mirrors an arrangement the police department set up with Northwest Suburban High School District 214 in November. The latter pact allows police to access the cameras at John Hersey High School and the Forest View Educational Center, where District 214 has its alternative schools and administrative offices.

Arlington Heights police now have agreements with most of the public schools in town, Northwest Community Hospital and some businesses. They allow officers to view real-time footage once a 911 call is received from any of those locations. The video stream could be viewed at the police station's real-time crime center hub, in squad cars, and on officers' cellphones.

District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein said access to the school camera systems wouldn’t become available until a 911 call is placed for a specific reason.

“ (If) we dial 911, but it’s because we need an ambulance, they wouldn’t have permission,” Bein said. “If we’re dialing 911 because of an intruder or because of a disturbance … they would have permission then. They set up a system that ties into our cameras and would be able to access them as they’re sending their responders.”

The program integrates surveillance feeds with building floor plans and the body camera locations of officers, squad cars and ambulances — all overlaid in Google Maps. There’s no initial cost to the schools or businesses for a large data box that attaches to their video systems and transmits images to the cloud.

Police officials said their collaboration with the school district will enhance response to public safety issues and emergencies.

During his initial presentation to the District 214 school board late last year, police Sgt. Sean Edmondson said the cameras aren’t meant to be used in any punitive manner against students.

“We are not interested in monitoring students, what they do during the school day,” he said.

The District 25 board’s decision to partner with Arlington Heights police comes as the elected panel shelved a proposal brought by Police Chief Nick Pecora nearly a year ago to add as many as two school resource officers to work at Thomas and South middle schools. A pair of officers already split their time among the district’s nine schools and 10 other public and private schools in Arlington Heights, but most school board members balked at the $222,000 estimated annual salary costs they’d have to cover.

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