ROMULUS MI March 11 2014 — Calling it “another layer of security,” Marty Rotz believes having cameras at Romulus Central School linked to the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office is another way to give parents peace of mind.
“We’re very excited about this partnership with the sheriff’s office and the extra security it will provide,” the Romulus superintendent said Wednesday during an interview with Sheriff Jack Stenberg and Undersheriff Gary Sullivan at the sheriff’s office.For the last several weeks, the sheriff’s department has had access to school cameras via computer through LAKENet, which connects dozens of school districts through Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES.
Rotz believes Romulus is the first district in the region to have its cameras linked to a police agency.
Rotz said the link was established after Romulus made upgrades to its camera system last summer. There are about 50 cameras in the school, mostly in corridors, entrances and around parking lots; because of privacy issues, they are not in classrooms and bathrooms.
“We have had cameras for years, for our own use such as investigating student trouble … and we started asking questions to the sheriff’s office about the possibilities,” he said. “Getting the sheriff’s department to have access to what we have is frosting on the cake.”
While Rotz, Stenberg and Sullivan said the cameras can certainly alert police to an emergency situation, they can also help with the investigation of less serious incidents at the school. The district’s computer server stores video on the cameras for about two months.
“We can look at back tapes if we’re looking into criminal mischief, maybe somebody joyriding in the parking lot,” Stenberg said. “To be able to go back and look at the footage could be invaluable.”
While the cameras at Romulus Central are not monitored continually at the sheriff’s office, Sullivan said road patrol deputies can also access them by vehicle computers. The Internet portal allows for numerous camera angles to be seen at one time.
“We’ve found it works beyond our wildest expectations,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan credited two information technology employees, Sue Fegley from the school district and John Palladino from the sheriff’s office, for their work. Sullivan added that the camera link is among several measures Romulus has added to increase security, including putting large classroom numbers on windows and having key fobs for access to entrance doors, which deputies can use to make sure doors are locked during non-school hours.
“Romulus is at the forefront of schools when it comes to security,” he said.
Stenberg said the sheriff’s office may also reach out to the South Seneca school district on a similar partnership, and possibly work with police in Waterloo and Seneca Falls on doing the same in those school districts.
Rotz said the district’s increased security, in part, is due to the lack of a school resource officer. The district cut that positions several years ago due to funding.
He added that the cameras and the link to the sheriff’s office is not meant to provide constant surveillance.
“This is not something we were looking to throw in people’s faces and say we’re always watching,” he said. “We just want folks in the district and parents to know there is a level of security here. We also think there will be an element of deterrence by having the cameras and people knowing the sheriff’s office has access to them.”
Stenberg said in the event of an emergency, access to the cameras could give officers valuable information before entering the building.
“It could save a tremendous amount of time in assessing a situation. Going into a building is scary enough. Without information makes it even moreso,” he said. “With the cameras, now the first man in the door has some information, and getting to the scene quickly and having that information is crucial.
Time is of the essence in these situations and critical to our response.”