News headlines in both local and national outlets are continuously highlighting districts purchasing physical security measures, especially the use of security cameras. While administrators and law enforcement may see the benefit of installing cameras throughout and around school buildings, what are students’ perceptions of security cameras?
The Journal of Adolescent Health published a report summarizing surveys from more than 54,000 middle and high school students in 98 Maryland middle and high schools. The four results listed in the “Surveillance or Safekeeping? How School Security Officer and Camera Presence Influence Students’ Perceptions of Safety, Equity, and Support” abstract included:
- “Greater use of security cameras inside the school was related to lower perceptions of safety, equity, and support.”
- “A moderate level of security camera use outside the school was related to higher student perceptions of support.”
- “Security officer presence was associated with higher perceptions of safety.”
- “For black students, cameras were associated with elevated perceptions of safety and support relative to white students.”
Industry Experts Weigh In
Reuters interviewed Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, assistant professor at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University and the study’s lead author, about the survey results. Lindstrom Johnson commented that results suggest “administrators and school districts need to be thoughtful about why and where they are putting cameras.”
In the same article, Reuters interviewed two professors not associated with the study, Shannon Bennett, assistant professor of adolescent psychology and psychiatry and clinical director of the youth anxiety center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Aaron Kupchik, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware in Newark, about their perceptions of the survey results.
“(The new findings show) that more security does not necessarily mean that students feel safer,” said Bennett. “There needs to be a balancing of the need to have some surveillance of the environment with students’ feelings of being watched. The findings do suggest more work needs to be done to figure out how to best create an optimal learning environment.”
Bennett also suggested that it is possible that while indoor cameras could help with bullying problems, there needs to be some clarification as to how the footage is being used.
“If security is implemented poorly [students] might feel policed rather than protected; they might feel like they are viewed as criminals; they might feel like prisoners,” said Kupchik. “The irony is that back in the 2000s a lot of school administrators put in cameras and armed guards because they didn’t want another Columbine despite the fact that there were cameras and armed guards at Columbine.”
Kupchik added that some security measures can backfire, “if the students feel that they’re going into a hostile climate.”
Creating an Optimal Learning Environment
As Bennett mentioned, there needs to be a balance. Surveillance is important, but it is only part of the solution to creating safer schools. In addition to physical safety measures, creating safe schools is made up of many parts, including:
- Creating a culture of awareness of staff and students through training and other methods
- Providing stakeholders with mechanisms to report unsafe or suspicious behavior
- Effective and swift investigation of reports
- Forging close, collaborative relationships with local law enforcement agencies
Contact us today to find out how PublicSchoolWORKS can help you create this balance.