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School officials to revisit campus security

Outdoor cameras may be upgraded, fencing could be added at BHS.

Some years, summer is for snoozing.

But after a school year that saw two high-profile cancellations at the high school due to threats of violence, school officials are spending this summer talking security.

“Security is always an issue,” said School Board President Bruce Weiland. “But obviously after the events of the final week of school, this is a good time to take a step back and examine the issue more closely.”

Weiland was referring to the threat of gun violence – against specific students and the school at large – in notes posted at Bainbridge High School the Monday before school was to let out.

Police arrested a person of interest shortly after the incident occurred, but no charges were filed in connection with the crime, which remains unsolved.

In light of that, and acknowledging the importance of security issues at Bainbridge schools, the school board on Thursday will have one of several security discussions set to take place in the coming months.

Though security is continually revisited by the school district, the board last spring began early work on a new security plan aimed at improving school safety.

Central to that plan is the addition of a school resource officer who, along with being a presence on the high school campus, would serve in an educational role.

Police officials have for the past several years stressed the need for such a position. Funding was included in this year’s city preliminary budget, but was cut out in favor of other things.

In hopes of sharing costs with the city for an SRO, the school district is including funding in its own budget for the coming year.

Several other security changes could be on tap as well, according to a memo to the school board from Superintendent Ken Crawford.

“It is essential our school system take seriously but not overreact to the recent threat,” Crawford said in the memo. “Enhanced procedures and security should be in place with the start of school.”

The memo recommends several new measures over the course of the next year and beyond.

Immediate changes could include adding a second security person for the lower campus, better radios for security personal and improved security cameras on the high school campus.

Cameras have been in place at BHS for the past two years, but they’ve been of little help to police.

Despite the fact that the most recent threat came outside of school hours – which is the only time the cameras can be used, under school policy – Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan said no images were captured that would help the ongoing investigation.

“I don’t think they’ve captured a single usable image in the past year,” he said. The ineffectiveness of the cameras is due to their poor quality and placement, he said.

Use restrictions for the cameras were established by the school board after a year-long debate about the potential intrusiveness of video surveillance on day-to-day activity at the school.

Duncan said the camera systems at schools in Port Orchard – a community in which he previously worked – were far more expansive and effective than the one in place at BHS.

The Port Orchard school cameras are monitored by school staff, he said, and are effective tools for investigating both criminal and school disciplinary incidents on campus.

Aside from better cameras, other physical solutions could be implemented sometime this fall.

Fencing could be installed around the perimeter of the school – particularly near forested areas – and around the stadium, to better control access to and from campus.

“Among the larger questions is the extent to which the community is willing to give up the more casual and comfortable atmosphere of our schools,” the memo said. “Regrettably, I believe the days of unfettered access to the campus are gone.”

Better lighting and signage are suggested for the long-term, along with a complete re-keying of all locks and the addition of quick-release locking mechanisms that would enable staff to lock or unlock from a central location all doors on campus.

Increased training and frequency of emergency drills also are on tap, as are systems to improve communication between school staff and students.

That could include an Internet communication system that would allow students to submit safety concerns anonymously.

One of the problems, Weiland said, is that students often are reluctant to come forward with incriminating information about their peers.

Discussion about that and security issues in general, he said, aren’t going to disappear any time soon.

“There’s always a concern about whether we’re piercing that kid culture,” he said. “It’s important to ask ‘are kids speaking up?’”

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