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Intruders Taught Lesson

​THE DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOL system, which had seen enrollment decline as families moved away in search of jobs, was forced to close down 29 schools, leaving approximately 100 buildings vacant. Some of these were brand new facilities and some were in need of significant repair. Opportunistic thieves began stealing valuables from the abandoned schools. Perpetrators took anything of value, from communications equipment to furniture, with copper wire and piping being among the most common targets.

The city at first protected the properties using motion alarms to which its sworn police officers responded. However, the false alarm rate was high. Things as common as wind and moving curtains set off alarms and criminals used this to their advantage. They would force open a door or window, then secure it with a bungee cord. Officers responding to the alarm would try the doors and windows and would find that they seemed secure. The officers would leave assuming that another false alarm had been triggered.

The school system decided that it needed video surveillance to supplement or replace the motion alarms. It hired D/A Central, a security systems integrator from Oak Park, Michigan, and then sent out a request for proposals. The school selected MotionViewer by Videofied of White Bear Lake, Minnesota. The MotionViewer was the clear winner, according to Dave Shelton, president of D/A Central, because it was battery-operated. This was critical, says Shelton, because the units were being placed in buildings that had no power. They were also easy to install. (The school also uses some units in the computer rooms of operational schools. These units have a keypad that allows staff to activate and deactivate the system so that it is armed only at night.)

Each unit contains a digital camera, a motion detector, and LED lights. It hangs on the wall and runs on AA batteries. If the unit detects motion within 50 feet, the LED lights come on, and the camera begins recording. Simultaneously, the unit transmits to D/A Central’s monitoring station an alarm and a 10-second video clip using the cellular network.

The monitoring station then views the video to determine whether there is an intruder. If it is a valid alarm, the station sends the video to the phone of the police officer on duty. The video comes in as an e-mail attachment. The chief operating officer for the school system also receives the video.

After the first 10-second video clip, if there is continued motion, the camera will send another clip. This often provides the school with a sequence of events. For example, on one alarm, the first clip showed two intruders armed with crowbars. The next clip showed the police officer entering the facility. And the third clip documented the arrest.

Depending on the size of the building, the school system may install three to seven cameras. Initially, the schools installed cameras to record the main doors of each building. However, police found that wasn’t necessary because most thieves didn’t enter the building that way.

“We started putting the cameras at critical intersections,” says Shelton. “The cameras cover a 90 degree angle, so we can cover a hallway intersection easily and can see quite a distance down the hallway, about 100 feet or more.”