Anyone planning an after-hours or weekend visit to a school in the San Bernardino district should rest assured that someone will be watching you.
The district is installing a multimillion-dollar, high-tech surveillance system that keeps an eye on school perimeters, administrative offices and areas where students gather.
The high-definition Sony cameras are watching San Bernardino City Unified School District playgrounds, parking lots and especially air conditioning units, which have been prime targets for metal thieves.
When the system is armed, it guards school boundaries and other sensitive areas with invisible infrared beams. When something breaks the beam, an alert is sent to school police dispatch headquarters.
On their screens, the dispatchers see two maps with icons representing all of the schools; the one that sent the alert will be blinking. When the dispatcher clicks on that school, icons for all of its cameras appear; the one that alerted will be blinking.
Clicking on that camera allows the dispatcher to immediately see what it is watching. The dispatcher can rewind and zoom in to see what triggered the alert, and send school police officers if warranted while keeping watch on the trouble spot.
It takes seconds for the dispatcher get the alert and home in on the trouble spot.
That’s a huge boon to a district trying to keep schools and students safe in a city challenged by crime and municipal bankruptcy.
Metal theft in particular has been troublesome, said school police Chief Joseph Paulino.
Thieves who strip the copper wire out of air conditioning units may make money by selling it to a recycler, but they leave the district with huge bills to replace the destroyed equipment.
From January to March this year, losses to copper thieves totaled $284,000, said district spokeswoman Maria Garcia. Last year the district had to close some high schools after air conditioners were disabled during hot weather.
“When we start seeing air conditioning damage at $100,000 a pop, that takes money out of our programs that are so necessary to student achievement,” said Michael J. Gallo, chairman of the district’s board of education.
Because of that risk, some equipment is watched by cameras equipped with speakers that issue stern warnings to anyone who lingers nearby too long.
The surveillance system is functioning at 22 sites, including all but one high school, said Verlin “Pete” Peterson, senior account executive with Vector USA, a technology firm that has been working with the district for 14 years.
Seven more schools have systems under construction, and, by next year, all 74 school district sites will be covered, Paulino said.
©2014 The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.)