Editorials and Opinions

PRO: Prevention is the key

By Alex Schneider
Published: December 2007

By Alex Schneider

Readers of today’s Denebola–whether students, faculty, or parents–will be astonished to find out that security cameras disguised as smoke detectors have been installed at South. The controversy that will arise will not be based on whether there is a need for cameras. After all, we are watched at the supermarket, the mall, the airport, and even on the streets of some cities.

Instead, the community will scrutinize the choice to install secret surveillance systems.

Students, after all, should not have broken this story. Teachers and administrators should have been told about the cameras. Parents should have been informed. The Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook should have been altered. The School Committee should have been consulted.

Security cameras and other security measures are important. Last year, a surge of vandalism caused housemasters to close various restrooms around school. Many students have had items stolen from lockers both in the locker room and in the hallways. Bags left unattended are often stolen as well.

If students were told about the cameras, they would be deterred from stealing or vandalizing the property of others. In this way, the cameras could be used as a preventative measure, as opposed to a disciplinary one.

When the cameras are secret, however, there is no transparency as to how the cameras will be used. Administrators could monitor for students eating in the hallways, coming late to classes, or speaking with others during passing time. Vandalism would continue at the same rate, because students would not fear getting caught.

In addition, the usage of secret cameras sets a dangerous precedent. When researching the cameras in anticipation of today’s story, Denebola reporters found commercial vendors selling cameras hidden as “Exit” signs, motion detectors, and clocks.

Administrators would certainly be comfortable installing these; after all, the cameras installed already have no resemblance to cameras, to the point that a metal grate covers the camera’s lens.

A quick search on Google reveals a vendor that sells such cameras with the following information: “The Swann Imitation Smoke Detector cleverly conceals a miniature video surveillance camera inside that is discreetly built into a non-working smoke detector. Perfect for those ‘covert’ operations where discretion
is a must.”

Go back to the mission statement that was carefully prepared two years ago. The fourth bullet point says that the South community “encourages communication.” How do “covert operations” fit with such a specific affirmation of the necessity of communication?

No one wants security cameras, just as no one wants to have identification cards or metal detectors at school. The trouble is that in this age of insecurity, these measures need to be considered. What we cannot allow, however, is for a unilateral action without widespread discussion. Students, teachers, and parents should be given a chance to voice their concerns over the security cameras.

If, in the end, the community agrees that we need cameras, then install them and publicly outline how they will be used. Put up signs that remind students not to vandalize and install marked cameras that look like cameras.

The student press, which publishes on an infrequent, monthly schedule, should be the last informant to the public of the presence of security cameras. Not the first.

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