Sunday, October 20, 2019

Putnam City School District has 800 security cameras, facial-recognition software

"The specter of mass shootings has pushed school administrators across the country to consider investment in an array of new and emergent security technologies that have been sold as potential solutions to head off these tragic incidents," Lucas Ropek reports for Governing magazine.
Chief among the new technologies is facial recognition—a technology that has recently exploded to prominence in many other sectors of society. ... One place where the technology has been welcomed with open arms is Putnam City School District in Oklahoma.

Covering a significant swath of Oklahoma City, as well as several smaller, neighboring cities, Putnam already has an extensive security system: over 800 cameras are equipped at 30 school buildings spread out over some 43 square miles, said Mark Stout, the district's chief of police. Still, improvements are always being sought, he added.

The district began looking into the facial recognition market in early 2018. After selecting Israeli vendor AnyVision, equipment was installed during the late months of that year; officials then ran the cameras through a period of testing that lasted four to five months—with a heavy emphasis on rooting out any potential for gendered or racial bias, Stout explained.

While still relatively new, district administrators feel the technology gives an added layer of sophistication to security processes already in place. When coupled, for instance, with a system of strategically placed metal detectors and Genetec-powered access control devices—which allow officials to remotely lock down certain parts of the school—the new cameras hopefully have the capability to help quickly identify and isolate threats.

Also important is the product's "watchlist" feature, which helps security officials archive and identify certain students who have been suspended, do not belong on school grounds, or who may pose some sort of threat. While some schools have seen backlash over this feature, Stout said that the public has been receptive to it as a key security function.

At the same time, the software is also moving closer to accurate object recognition, which would help security personnel identify "someone with a rifle, or a long gun, or a handgun," Stout said. This future capability would greatly advance the ability to minimize threats, he added.

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