If you commit a criminal act inside or outside of Riverside-Brookfield High School, be forewarned. The police will be watching.
On Jan. 16, Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel announced that the police dispatch center and officers in squad cars now have the ability to view live feeds from any of the school’s 32 surveillance cameras if they are called there to respond to a criminal complaint.
The District 208 school board voted to approve police access to the live video feed in October 2011.
Police won’t have access to a live video stream 24 hours a day, however. Access to the feed will be used sparingly, said Weitzel, and its use will be tracked and reported to school officials.
Weitzel has drafted an executive order for the camera feed’s use, an order that has been approved by both the Riverside village board and the high school’s board of education. All of the officers and dispatchers have signed the order and understand the limitations of use, according to Weitzel.
“The order says that when there’s a call for our services, the officer or 911 operator has the ability to log into the system to view the cameras,” said Weitzel.
The user must enter a password, so there will be a record each time the video system is accessed. Weitzel said he’ll submit quarterly reports detailing the times, dates and reasons why the video feed was accessed.
Riverside is the only police agency with the ability to view the live feed. Police departments of other towns served by RBHS, such as Brookfield, North Riverside and LaGrange Park, will not receive the feed.
In any case, the school is located within Riverside and officers from other municipalities do not respond to incidents there unless specifically asked to by Riverside police.
“They don’t respond unless we need additional help,” Weitzel said.
Weitzel said access to the video feed will assist police making calls at the high school in identifying not only suspects but the exact location they’re needed. Both the dispatch center and police squad car computers have the ability to view eight cameras at a time, each with a specific location attached to it.
“The high school has a list of locations,” said Weitzel. “We can pick just one if an incident is in that area.”
Riverside police and the high school spent the month prior to Jan. 16 working out bugs in the system. Those have now been worked out, said Weitzel and the system is fully functional.
Prior to the new arrangement, Riverside had access to recorded video feeds for investigative purposes. The most recent request for video from the high school came earlier this month in response to a theft incident outside the school. A set of handlebars was stolen from a bicycle. The video record from the times the bike reportedly was parked at the school was not useful in that case, Weitzel said.
The intent of the cameras, Weitzel said is not to invade students’ or staff’s privacy but to gain real time visual information in the case of a criminal incident.
“If there’s a violent incident or a burglar alarm goes off at 2:30 a.m., if we know the location, we can call up the video while we’re outside,” Weitzel said.
In response to a question regarding privacy concerns students or parents might have, District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said video cameras are nothing new to the school. The district has cameras throughout the campus and video was already sharable with police for investigative purposes.
“We have 32 surveillance cameras running all the time, and we check them regularly,” Skinkis said. “They are used to help and support our investigations and we’re giving the police department an opportunity to see what’s going on before they get here.”
If there ever is a serious incident at the school, “we want to make sure they are not entering into a hostile environment or situation,” said Skinkis.