Emergency Communication

Baltimore County Police See “One View” of Local Schools

Location: Maryland By Becky Lewis Published May 2014

The call goes out from dispatch: Armed intruder at “ABC Elementary School.” Nearby officers quickly move toward the school, accessing the view from security cameras on their mobile devices, calling up floor plans and scanning the school’s layout while in route. Thanks to this instant access, they don’t have to go in blind; instead, they come prepared with vital information.

While school system administrators and the Baltimore County Police hope the above scenario never happens in their area, thanks to the One View System installed in the county’s elementary schools prior to the start of the 2013-2014 school year, officers would indeed be able to access camera feeds and floor plans should such an incident occur. At the same time, administrators at both county police headquarters and the school administration offices would also be able to access the same information in real time.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, and also following up on a shooting at Baltimore County’s Perry Hall High School on Aug. 27, 2012, the school system and the police department began making short- and long-term plans to improve school safety in early 2013. The county’s middle and high schools already had older, analog camera systems in place; however, the county’s 105 elementary schools and four special schools had no video capabilities at all, thus the decision to start One View installation at that level.

“After Sandy Hook, we kept hearing ‘What are you doing for the elementary schools?’ ” says Dale Rauenzahn, executive director of the Baltimore County Public Schools Department of School Safety and Security. “Conventional policy from the past might have dictated starting at the secondary school level, but Sandy Hook changed all that. Right now, we have multiple camera views in each school located in public access areas, with the potential to upgrade to additional cameras, depending on a school’s size and floor plan.” http://youtu.be/vhUQHZhtw4M

And plans do call for updating the middle and high school camera systems to a digital format compatible with integration into the One View system. In the meantime, although the school system cannot provide access to those cameras to the police department, it can burn surveillance footage needed for investigations to DVD for sharing with local law enforcement.

Baltimore County called on several sources to fund the new video hardware, but another key piece of the school system’s strategy carried no additional cost: maintaining and nurturing the ongoing strong relationship between the school system and the police department. The department’s school resource officer (SRO) program began in 1998 with officers at Pikesville and Franklin high schools, and has since grown to 63 full-time officers assigned to secondary schools, in addition to a sergeant and a captain. (Those totals make the Baltimore County SRO division larger than 80 percent of all local police departments in the United States.) Also, Rauenzahn meets with Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson and School Superintendent Dallas Dance on a quarterly basis, further strengthening the relationship between police and schools.

“That strong relationship plays a key role in why this works. There’s ongoing trust, and the county and the IT department are on board with us,” he says. “We made the signal available and let them set it up in the way that works best for them. We went live within the schools on the first day of school, and then the police department established its access in March.”

And that access is “definitely state of the art,” according to Corporal John Wachter of the department’s Public Information Office: “Baltimore County likes to leverage technology to better the safety of its citizens, and this is a good example of that. This program is all about the safety of our kids, in fact the safety of everyone in the school system, from students, to teachers, to staff, and to visitors. It’s all about their safety.” http://youtu.be/I7YquAvDx1o

In the first two months of use, safety issues uncovered by One View have been minor, mostly relating to parents who picked up children without following sign-out procedures, or children intent on wandering off on their own. However, Corporal Wachter says that should a truly dangerous situation arise, the fact that an officer can quickly pull up information on a particular school could prove invaluable.

Officers also have access to the results of a spring 2013 tactical assessment, wherein 12 officers from the department’s community outreach section performed a comprehensive safety walkthrough of all of the county’s 168 schools. Rauenzahn says that each school’s principal, SRO (if applicable) and chief custodian will do follow-up reviews on an annual basis.

“It really is a combination of many things that keep our kids safe. Officers check in with the elementary schools on a daily basis. We have buzzer systems in addition to the cameras, and all of our teachers are trained according to their school’s individual plan,” he says. “And the community has really accepted this program and supported it wholeheartedly. Parents are telling us at community meetings and in other public venues how supportive they feel. They understand that all of our cameras are there to protect the public and their children.”

That view of support prevails at all of the county’s elementary schools, including Cromwell Elementary School, where Principal Darlene Morrison definitely realizes the value of the One View system at her facility: http://youtu.be/PlwpsddsRi0 “The secretary and I can see who is coming in and out of the building. That gives us a great advantage."