Around 70 new Sony security cameras have been installed across campus and in the football stadium as a part of Measure T and Measure U, approved by Torrance voters in November 2014. Part of what is being funded by these measures is better security for all campuses within the district.
The new security cameras at West Torrance High School cost $350,000 and are part of the overall security upgrade for all campuses. The security upgrade includes fencing repairs and upgrades, new gates, and a few other items.
“This security upgrade has been in the works for years, and it is not in response to any recent events, either local or national,” explained Principal Metz.
Junior Ghazi Aryan was uncomfortable with the increased surveillance.
“I just can’t shake the prison connotation off. It genuinely seems ridiculous as at almost every corner, you can find at least two or three cameras,” he said. “Furthermore, with the addition of all these cameras, one begins to think what the administration thinks the students are doing.”
As for fears of a dystopian “1984″-esque school environment, the new system is not intended to be used to see what is happening around campus in real time. Metz said that the new camera system would provide better access to video in the event that there is a problem on campus such as a theft or a fight.
Additionally, security cameras are not an uncommon feature of today’s high schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 89% of high schools were found to have security cameras on campus in the 2013-2014 school year.
“Our previous system did not provide high quality video, and often it was difficult to determine the identity of a person whose actions were suspicious. The previous system also did not cover the whole campus. The new system will cover virtually every angle on campus and give us very high quality video, making it easier to identify a suspect,” explained Principal Metz.
A previous incident (during which significant vandalism was committed in classrooms in Building 3 on a Saturday morning) was recorded on poor quality video that didn’t cover all areas or provide a clear image of the suspect. The low video quality hindered efforts to administer disciplinary action.
“If we had the new system in place, we would have pulled up the video for that area of campus and for the time of the event, and the video would have allowed us to identify the suspect and pursue restitution,” explained Metz.
District-wide, the total surveillance project cost $3.5 million.
“I feel like the money spent on these cameras could very well be put to better use elsewhere. Spending a ton on cameras for something that might not ever really be used just seems off,” commented Aryan.
However, schools must be able to balance the conflicting values of security and privacy.
“Improvements in monitoring and communication can help to ensure students, teachers, and parents have the information they need at the right moment,” said the NCES.
Principal Metz explained that having security cameras helps prevent unauthorized or suspicious activity on campus, and that the cameras would not intrude upon anyone’s privacy.
“I’m comfortable with the expectation of privacy that students and staff might have on a public school campus. For me, the balance weighs in favor of being able to catch someone who stole a student’s phone or vandalized a classroom. Basically, if you’re not doing anything wrong, then no one is watching you on video, but if you are, we are much more likely to catch you than we were before,” Principal Metz said.
The other major piece of security that will be implemented is a new gated entry system into the administration building. Once that is in place, visitors will need to pass through a locked gate after being cleared to enter campus. This security measure is being implemented on every campus in the district, and will be installed at West High during the rest of the modernization process.
West High’s modernization is scheduled to begin in September upon breaking ground for the new auditorium, and completion of all projects is scheduled for December 2018.