The level of cooperation between the Riverside Police Department and Riverside-Brookfield High School has reached new heights this year. On Oct. 11 the District 208 school board voted unanimously to allow the Riverside Police 911 center and Riverside police officers access to live streams of RBHS security camera footage.
Officers in squad cars would have access to high school security cameras via their laptop computers. But the police have assured school officials that they would only look at the video when needed.
“It will not be viewed unless we are responding to a call for service at the high school,” said Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel. “It will not be continuously viewed by personnel.”
RBHS has 24 to 32 security cameras that provide coverage throughout the school.
Weitzel said that he had been pushing for live access to RB security cameras for some time.
“It was brought up to previous administrations, and they weren’t interested in sharing that access,” Weitzel said. “But my position is that it’s a public building. We won’t have employees just sitting there watching.”
Weitzel said that access to live footage could be very important to police if they are responding to an emergency situation. Police officers would have the opportunity to know what they were walking into. Weitzel said that the police department would develop a protocol for access to the video.
School board member Mike Welch brushed aside some concerns that board members Laura Hruska and Tim Walsh had initially expressed about invading the privacy rights of students.
“This is a public building and there is no expectation of privacy in this building,” said Welch, an Internal Revenue Service agent assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The agreement is just one manifestation of the high level of cooperation between Weitzel and new District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
On Sept, 30 Weitzel and Skinkis, along with their top staff, met at the school and discussed ways to work together on common concerns.
Weitzel is exploring obtaining grant money to fund shared training for police and school personnel. They also discussed increased parking and traffic enforcement around the school and increased foot patrols in and around the high school.
Weitzel and Skinkis exchanged cell phone numbers and pledged to keep each other informed about issues of mutual concern.
“I’m very happy with the new administration,” Weitzel said. “They’re very supportive. They’re willing to meet with us. They’re willing to listen to our ideas and we’re willing to listen to theirs.
“I have access to the superintendent 24 hours a day as he has to me. He’s willing to look at our ideas and help us build what we think is a safer campus.”
Skinkis requested that police visit the school more often.
“They asked for more walk throughs,” Weitzel said. “These are just low key. Just walk through, stop in the cafeteria, talk to the students. It’s already started to happen.”
Skinkis has also met with the police chiefs from Brookfield, North Riverside and La Grange Park. The school and local police departments have agreed to share information on incidents that might affect students in school or out in the community.
Students have been put on notice that their cars are subject to search while in school parking lots.
“There are now signs posted that say vehicles that are on school grounds are subject to search by the police department,” Weitzel said. “There’s a statute that allows it.”
Both Weitzel and Skinkis would like to have a police officer assigned full time to the school, but neither the village nor the school can afford that right now.
“I did actually make a request of the school board and the superintendent to consider a full-time school resource officer, but it would have to be funded by the school … 70/30,” Weitzel said. “They don’t really have the funds right now, and I can tell you Riverside doesn’t, but I did make the request.”
Skinkis said that every other school that he has worked at had a full-time police resource office assigned to the school.
Weitzel said that things have been pretty quiet at RBHS so far this year from a law-enforcement perspective.
The cooperation between the school and the police increased during the last two years under former Interim Superintendent David Bonnette. Last year during the second semester, a number of students were expelled as school officials and the school board took a hard line against repeat troublemakers. Those expulsions seem to have played a role in the calmer atmosphere at the school this year.
“Activity overall is down and I do believe that those expulsions at the end of last year played a role in that,” Weitzel said.
Weitzel said he hopes the climate at RBHS will continue to improve.
“It’s a good situation right now,” Weitzel said. “I’m very pleased with the superintendent’s cooperation with the police department.”