Delays in fixing school cameras

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalists DEREK RASOR and ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on April 29, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 30 at 9:53 AM

A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered security cameras at Austin ISD often take months to repair and there is no policy that requires anyone to track it.

The district maintains nearly 3,600 school cameras. The technology has helped catch criminals breaking into schools, identified bullies beating children and have even caught a rapist walking on school grounds.

“He was a known registered sex offender and we were able to make an arrest on that,” said Eric Mendez, AISD’s police chief talking about a case from a few years ago.

While the district operates one of the most advanced security camera systems in the state, maintenance records reviewed by the KVUE Defenders show it can take a month or more for staff to repair, replace or move cameras. 

A 2011 request at LBJ High School shows multiple cameras were in "exceedingly bad condition." It took staff 46 days to repair the cameras.

At McCallum High School, maintenance records show it took staff about four months to fix four cameras.

"I think that may be a little bit too long," said Dorian McClellan, who has a child attending an Austin high school.

"One to two days” is what it should be taking to get fixed, McClellan said.

Chief Mendez argues the length of time to fix a camera “depends on the number of cameras on the campus and what the camera sees.”

He says 99 percent of the district’s cameras work without problems each day, but he admits ordering parts or replacing broken cameras can delay repairs.

“Is it common to take a few months? It's possible. Is it a concern? Sure. Anytime you don't have the ability to see certain areas that could have a potential for something to happen, yeah it could be a concern,” said Mendez.

Some delays involve software problems. Records show it took staff about eight months to give the principal of a middle school the ability to monitor security cameras.

At the same school, someone wrote “I have five security cameras that need to be corrected and moved.” It took 827 days to complete the work order.

Kent Morrison has more than 20 years of experience in security. He owns BSG Security Services in Austin.

“If the individuals in there are saying, 'Oh at least we're being monitored, at least we're being filmed,' and yet they're looking at a broken camera, absolutely that's giving a false sense of security to those individuals,” Morrison said.

Some districts have policies mandating how quickly staff must fix cameras. Houston ISD’S policy requires staff to fix “urgent repairs” within 10 days. Austin doesn't have any policy.

“We do have protocols in place that our techs follow…but, we don't have a policy,” said Mendez.

In some cases, Mendez says staff may have fixed the cameras quickly, but did not update the maintenance logs.

Who's watching the security cameras? Principals, administration and AISD police have the capability to see any camera at any time, but that doesn’t mean there are eyeballs watching every camera.

Video captured by cameras are typically archived for about a month before it’s erased.

Austin ISD Board of Trustee President Vincent Torres says delays are a concern, and he would consider implementing a policy change. 

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