Atwater school trustees talk about security updates on campus

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comOctober 9, 2013 

— Trustees are continuing to study the safety of Atwater Elementary School District campuses and are assessing adding more security cameras at individual campuses in future years.

Board members Tuesday night appointed Trustees Joe Hoffar and Larry Whitney to a subcommittee to meet with Atwater principals and discuss their recommendations for additional security cameras. A number of security cameras already are in place, funded by a two-year Community Oriented Policing Services grant that recently expired.

President Kelly Fincher said trustees are trying to make school sites much safer. The safety issue has gained momentum since the shooting massacre last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Fincher said security cameras are expensive, at least $2,000 each, and accompanying software also is needed. Areas of critical need – such as blind spots, entrances and exits and hallways – are the first priority for additional cameras.

Each campus has operating cameras now, Fincher said, but the process of upgrading security, which started two years ago, has been slow.

“We have to keep students and teachers safe,” Trustee Scott Lee said. “We will fill in some other gaps if we can get funding.”

Superintendent Sandy Schiber said the district doesn’t have the funding to move to the second phase of a grant to purchase cameras. The district has a wish list for additional cameras and areas of critical need rank higher.

Atwater Police Chief Frank Pietro said state-of-the-art software will enable law enforcement officers to display security camera views of individual campuses on computers in their squad cars.

Hoffar said the district will explore a Department of Homeland Security grant next year for additional cameras. He said wiring is in place at the Atwater Police Department to monitor security cameras, and that project is in its final stage.

“We need to make sure everybody on campus is safe,” Hoffar said. “Several incidents already have been resolved by adding cameras.” Hoffar and Whitney will be talking with principals about their recommendations for additional cameras.

The district has a three-pronged strategy for security, which covers cameras, fencing and active-shooter training for staff members on each campus, Hoffar said. He is a retired police officer and consultant on active shooter situations.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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