Lawmakers Proposing Millions for Elementary School Surveillance Cams – UPDATE

Lawmakers Proposing Millions for Elementary School Surveillance Cams – UPDATE

By Ryan Singel April 15, 2008 | 7:06:07 PM

Call it the No Child Left Unsurveilled Act.

On Thursday, federal lawmakers will hold a hearing on a proposal to let public schools use millions in federal grants to blanket the halls of learning with surveillance cameras.

Those grants have typically been used to install metal detectors, lights and locks, as well as paying for security training for students and employees.

The bill adds closed circuit surveillance cameras to the list of items eligible for Justice Department Safe School grants, ups the funding to from $30 million annually to $50 million and increases the feds share of any outlays to 80%, up from the current 50-50 split.

In what seems a plain attempt to arise the ire of Bruce Schneier, the bill would bar schools from using the money for actually assessing what the threats and weaknesses to the school are.

That eligible item is replaced in the bill by tip lines for reporting dangerous students. New Jersey congressman Steve Rothman (D) introduced the School Safety Enhancements Act last May, and the measure has 53 co-sponsors.

The House Judiciary committee’s Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee will hold a hearing on the school surveillance bill and two other bills Thursday at 10 a.m. EST.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Rothman was not immediately available for comment.

UPDATE: Rothman’s spokeswoman Kimberly Allen tells THREAT LEVEL that surveillance cameras have always been an option for local schools, saying that local school districts asked for the change to make it simpler to get cameras.

Allen also says the program is not about the feds mandating security measures for schools.

"The federal government doesn’t tell schools what to do," Allen said. "School districts work with local law enforcement to determine what they need and they present that to the federal government and they make those determinations."

She also says that surveillance cameras do help with campus safety, citing a recent New Jersey case where students who brought smoke bombs to school called in fake bomb threats to schools were caught on videotape.

— UPDATE 2 — Actually the case involved the police reviewing 100 hours of videotape from a New Jersey high school’s 108 video cameras in order to bust 5 graduating students for putting large smoke bombs in a locker as a senior year prank. The smoke bombs were never lit, and were safely destroyed by the local bombsquad.

Afterwards, the local paper applauded the grant of $500,000 to the Wayne School Systems, quoting its superintendent as saying "In a post 9/11 world, you can never be too careful."

/UPDATE 2

She also disputes THREAT LEVEL’s reporting that the bill cuts money for security assessments. In fact, she says it expands them by requiring colleges whose students get federal financial aid to do annual security assessments and have plans for a school shooting attack or natural disaster.

But if you read the bill, it says to strike paragraph 2 of sub section b of 42 USC 3797a. Paragraph 2 is (2) Security assessments. The new bill inserts instead "(2) Establishment of hotlines or tiplines for the reporting of potentially dangerous students and situations." 

Rothman offered to have the Justice Department call to explain how THREAT LEVEL is misreading the bill, and I look forward to the call.

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