Newark Public School to Invest $12M in AI Camera System for Enhanced School Safety

Over 7,000 cameras with AI capabilities are set to be deployed in Newark schools in a $12 million contract approved by the Newark Board of Education on Thursday.

While district officials aim to enhance school safety with this advanced surveillance system, security experts caution about potential privacy infringements and the risk of misidentification.

Implementation of the cameras and related infrastructure by Turn-Key Technologies Inc., based in Sayreville, N.J., will take place over the summer as part of a time-sensitive two-year contract. The school district plans to have the 7,700 cameras installed by Aug. 31, preceding the new school year.

Funding for the project will be sourced from federal COVID relief funds, particularly the American Rescue Plan allocation set to expire at the end of September, in addition to local and grant funds as specified by Valerie Wilson, Newark’s school business administrator.

One board member, Vereliz Santana, acknowledged the project’s scope and urgency, requesting regular progress updates during the installation process starting in June. Other board members posed queries concerning the system’s ability to detect vaping incidents.

Stressing the need for optimized federal funding utilization, Wilson emphasized the significance of the contract and the district’s commitment to enhancing school safety.

The enhanced surveillance system coincides with calls from city officials and advocates to address youth violence issues in Newark.

A youth curfew will be enforced by the city starting Friday in response to heightened youth violence incidents, as stated by Mayor Ras Baraka, following recent shooting incidents involving students.

The new surveillance system introduced by Turn-Key will extend the district’s monitoring capabilities, enabling weapon detection and monitoring of individuals and vehicles using facial and license plate recognition technologies. This upgrade was deemed necessary due to the inadequacies of the existing security setup highlighted by Newark schools last year.

Originally scheduled for completion by the end of 2023, camera installation was delayed for nearly a year due to bidder compliance issues, subsequently prompting the district to revise project specifications and reissue bids in April 2024, according to Wilson.

In parallel with the surveillance system upgrade, the installation will include an “Avigilon surveillance system,” offering scalability for future security requirements according to Jermaine Wilson, a senior research engineer at IPVM.

Complementing this framework will be HALO sensors to identify vaping incidents, gunshots, and unusual noises in camera-free areas like restrooms, following the district’s specification.

Emphasizing strict privacy controls, Wilson assures that the surveillance system will respect the privacy of students and staff by adhering to authorized placement guidelines.

The contract received approval from all but one board member, Crystal Williams, who abstained. Vaping concerns in schools prompted board member Josephine Garcia to seek clarity on the specific vape sensors to be utilized, with details reserved for private committee discussions for security reasons, as mentioned by Wilson.

Superintendent Roger León hinted at impending initiatives in collaboration with the city’s Emergency Management Office for the upcoming school year, promising more details when the plans are finalized.

City police will not have access to the surveillance system, which encompasses indoor and outdoor school premises and other district locations, affirms Wilson.

With substantial investments in security enhancements over the years, the school district introduced metal detectors, patrol vehicles, and comprehensive security guard training. Further security measures, including increased security personnel and incident tracking upgrades, are in the works.

The contract was ratified during the reorganization meeting in May, coinciding with the swearing-in of newly elected board members. The board leadership was solidified, with Hasani Council appointed as president and Vereliz Santana and Allison James-Frison as co-vice presidents.

Jessie Gómez reports on education matters in Newark for Chalkbeat. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

This article was originally posted by Chalkbeat. Stay informed with their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters. Chalkbeat is dedicated to reporting on educational developments in public schools as a nonprofit news outlet.

Other articles

Education
Biden-Harris Administration pledges unprecedented $16 billion in aid for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration has introduced a groundbreaking level of …

Read More
Post Image
Education
Louisiana Legislature approves state funding for private schools, a victory for Landry

A motion to allocate state funds for K-12 public school students to private scho …

Read More
Post Image
Education
A group of young adults to assist schools in addressing youth mental health challenges

Nelly Grosso, an AmeriCorps member at a Denver-area high school, has actively wo …

Read More