Chicago Public Schools is planning to spend $76 million to expand and upgrade the number of security cameras both inside and outside of district-run schools across the city — a move officials say will improve the safety of students and staff.
But the announcement Wednesday morning also appeared to catch some education officials off-guard.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said the expansion will be phased in at school facilities over the next three years.
“These cameras will give security staff greater visibility across all areas of our (campuses) throughout the school day,” Martinez said. “They will be valuable in deterring crime and resolving criminal acts that take place around our schools.”
Martinez first announced the camera expansion during a press event Wednesday at Eli Whitney Elementary School before discussing the plans further at the monthly Board of Education meeting.
But the plan came seemingly as a surprise to some board members including Elizabeth Todd-Breland, who said this was the “first that I’m hearing” about the new investments.
“I was wondering if you could speak more to the evidence base around why this is making sense as such a large expenditure,” she asked Martinez.”Can you speak more to what feels like a big bet on technologies of surveillance?”
Todd-Breland said it’s not cameras that keep children safe, but rather relationships built through things like climate coordinators and counselors. Martinez contended the district engaged with school principals and leaders, who highlighted the need for more cameras.
“It was something that was elevated immediately as we started the school year,” he said. “The response from principals has been pretty much unanimous that this will be one of the best investments we can make.”
Todd-Breland said that with budget season approaching, she hopes CPS focuses on “equal growth and investments” for other safety and climate measures.
Martinez pointed to the size of some school campuses, and said that rather than increasing the number of security staff, the district opted to assist existing security by allowing those employees to view more areas of their buildings at all times.
He said the cameras can also work as a deterrent to keep any “suspicious activity” outside the school from making its way inside.
“You can’t, nor would you want, security in every square inch of the school,” CPS Chief of Safety and Security Jadine Chou said. “So this is a way where our security team … can do their job, but also be preventative and responsive.”
The district relied on a scoring model to determine which school’s will get upgrades first based on things like their enrollment and current camera condition, as well as the number of safety incidents taking place in and around a given school.
Based on those findings, the first phase will consist of 63 schools (58 elementary and five high schools) and is expected to be completed during the upcoming summer. That will be followed by a second phase next summer (120 elementary and 15 high schools) and then a final phase (122 elementary and 11 high schools) slated for completion in August 2025.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jackson Potter said he wants more information about how the cameras will be utilized.
“I do know in buildings that are older and have lots of entrances and exits … we do need to make sure our students are safe and that there aren’t people entering buildings unexpectedly,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “So we have to examine how it’s being utilized and where it’s being utilized to ensure it is done equitably and in a way that is going to actually keep school communities safe.”