Friday, May 25 , 2018, 4:20 pm | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

The Gang Dilemma: Do School Surveillance Cameras Help or Hurt?

Is video surveillance on school grounds a good way to monitor gang problems? Some local officials think so � and at least one school is looking into it. Others aren't so sure.

In response to the recent uptick in gang violence, at least one local school is considering installing video cameras on its campus to keep an eye out for signs of trouble, but some question whether such surveillance does more harm than good.

The issue of video surveillance was one of many discussed this week at a Santa Barbara school board workshop addressing gang violence.

At Tuesday�s workshop, Santa Barbara Junior High Principal John Becchio said the school has asked a Ventura company to give a price quote on installing four cameras on campus.

�My philosophy is about a balance,� he told the board. �I think we should have mentor programs ... In addition to that, it would be nice to have several video cameras in some of the key areas. Places like our P.E. area, and our field area.�

But at the same meeting, a UCSB psychology researcher gave a presentation to the board saying such methods tend to fuel distrust.

�When we put up fences and incorporate security guards and put up video cameras, we�re telling the students we don�t trust them,� said Dr. Jill Sharkey. �We�re telling students and families it�s not safe.�

Tuesday�s wide-ranging discussion about gang intervention and prevention was the latest in a series of steps the school district has taken to deal with the increase in gang violence.

Since a junior high school student was murdered last March in a gang-related stabbing, the schools have reduced the number of half school days for staff training, cracked down on students who wear gang apparel, hired a gang expert to speak at schools, and stepped up its surveillance of students considered by the police to be �serious habitual offenders.�

On Tuesday, Sharkey�s words seemed to resonate with school board member Annette Cordero.

�Prison is one of the most controlled environments a person could possibly be in, and yet, it�s also one of the environments that has the most horrible behaviors that take place,� she said.

She then asked Sharkey, �Are there other things, besides videos and fences, that also have been found to not be helpful? I don�t want to go down a road that�s going to exacerbate the problem.�

Sharkey responded by saying that school districts should do away with �zero tolerance� approaches to discipline.

It�s better, she said, to have �a process of responding to (threats) that involves both discipline and intervention.�

�When we expel them, that doesn�t mean they won�t come back with a gun,� she said. �Expelling them doesn�t get them off of our backs.�

But not everyone is opposed to installing video cameras.

Esteban Ortiz, a member of a Latino parent organization called the District English Learner Advisory Committee, said the group recently discussed several gang-prevention options, and decided that it was in support of video cameras.

�If we have this kind of technology guarding some of our premises, maybe that will free up some human resources,� he said.

Ortiz said the group also likes the idea of school uniforms, �to combat the influence of gang-style dress and attitude.�

�Then you will be able to identify who does belong there and who does not,� he said.

School board member Nancy Harter suggested looking into a tip line that students can call to flag administrators about potential dangers, such as fights or threats.

However, past efforts at establishing tip lines have been unsuccessful. Last year, Santa Barbara High School gave it a shot, and even tried to advertise it heavily, �all for a grand total of zero calls,� said Paul Turnbull, who last year was the school�s principal, but has since been promoted to assistant superintendent of secondary education.

On Tuesday, Jan. 22, the board will vote on whether to pursue a state grant to hire several gang intervention specialists.

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