School violence is on the rise. Despite concerns raised after last month’s deadly mass school shooting, most altercations involve feuding students. Philadelphia schools have witnessed so many disruptive, and even deadly fights, that school officials have partnered with local police and city lawmakers to draft a bill that would allow funding for 100 new security cameras to be installed around the schools most affected by gun violence.
This is in direct response to the fact that student-involved shootings have increased by 8% in the first half of 2022 alone. 94 minors under 18 have been shot in the area. District officials have noted that additional security cameras may be introduced if this legislation passes and proves useful.
Community members and leaders are working together in the hopes that this measure will deter gun violence in schools, but some critics argue that surveillance alone does nothing to stop violent students, and that many children feel less safe when their school has more security cameras. This has been an ongoing debate for years. While security cameras may deter students from committing crimes and aid investigators in identifying minor suspects, students’ right to privacy and the impact of a public school-endorsed surveillance state may do long-lasting mental harm.
Schools with security cameras are often in urban areas. The prevalence of video camera monitoring significantly increased in the 2000s. As of 2018, 83% of schools utilized some form of security camera, yet there is little updated information tracking success rates of heightened surveillance. Many reports claim that heightened surveillance “can” reduce violence in schools, but evidence of this has not been published in a widespread manner.
Security cameras also insert more technology into children’s lives. The effect of social media on children’s lives has displayed the harmful effects of constantly being watched by others. Students already face unprecedented pressures to learn more than ever and navigate an outdated public school system which is inserting biased political rhetoric into classroom lessons. The youth mental health crisis is ongoing, and being placed under constant supervision puts many children on edge, especially if facing politically intrusive teachers.
Despite this, security camera footage has recently been used to spot abuse, and remove harmful teachers from the classroom. Based on the growing need to address violence in Philadelphia schools, students’ physical safety is taking priority over reservations against surveillance. In January a senior high school student at Bartram High School was gunned down in Southwest Philadelphia close to campus. In April, an 8th-grade student attending Tanner Duckrey School was shot and killed near the school. Numerous shootings have injured and claimed the lives of students close enough to their schools that outside security cameras may have deterred or at least aided investigators to apprehend those responsible.
Whether community leaders intend to install the proposed security cameras inside classrooms or on the exterior of buildings — to view threats entering and nearing the school — is unclear. Even so, in addition to increased surveillance, weapons screenings will be held at Philadelphia middle schools annually, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has offered more support to the city’s already existing Safe Corridors program which utilizes community volunteers to ensure students safely arrive at school and return home. These efforts are offering students, parents, and teachers more support in wake of the growing school violence epidemic in the hopes that they will reduce harmful incidents.