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A Times Editorial

Making high school campuses safer

There is no way of knowing whether having security cameras at Tampa's Chamberlain High School could have prevented last week's reported rape of a 16-year-old girl. Still, Hillsborough County school officials need to review the incident and their security to determine whether more campuses need cameras or other extra security.

Tampa police said the girl was returning to class from her locker when a 16-year-old male student followed her, pushed her inside a boy's bathroom and raped her. The girl found the school's police resource officer, and that night, police arrested a Chamberlain student and charged him in the attack.

The Hillsborough schools, like other districts, employ a range of security measures. But cameras are in only four of Hillsborough's 27 high schools (Chamberlain is not among them). Neighboring counties use the cameras much more regularly. Hillsborough officials say the issue is cost — that the schools would need about 60 cameras each, at $4,000 apiece. But that assumes the district needs to blanket every campus. That may not even be the most effective strategy. School officials need to determine the security situation at each specific school and come up with a plan and the money to address it.

The Chamberlain case shows how difficult it is to generalize about security. Both students involved had hall passes, making them, in a sense, exactly where they were supposed to be. This restroom happened to be in a remote location. And while some Hillsborough high schools have cameras, they are not monitored full-time. The cameras are used in part as an intimidation factor and the tapes as evidence after the fact. There is no guarantee that more cameras will prevent crimes, though it may be easier to prosecute those responsible. That is some comfort, but it does not spare students from actually being attacked.

The district already assesses on a routine basis the unique security threats that individual schools face. But that involves more mundane questions of whether a school needs a fence, for example, to keep out dogs or people from straying on campus. The answer for some schools might be cameras in the most remote or far-reaching locations. Adding more school resource officers is always an option, and one that comes with added costs. PTAs and other volunteer groups might be recruited as monitors. High schools have become major campuses. While no security is fool-proof, the district needs to look at ways to reduce the risks as much as possible.

Making high school campuses safer 10/09/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 9, 2011 4:30am]
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