Newark Schools to Install 7,000 AI Cameras, Privacy Concern?

by Staff
Newark School District

Newark schools are set to see a significant increase in surveillance. The Newark Board of Education approved a $12 million contract Thursday, paving the way for the installation of over 7,000 cameras equipped with artificial intelligence capabilities.

The project, awarded to Turn-Key Technologies Inc., based in Sayreville, N.J., aims to enhance safety measures within the district’s schools. However, concerns have been raised by security experts regarding potential privacy infringements and the accuracy of the system in identifying items or individuals.

Valerie Wilson, Newark’s school business administrator, emphasized the urgency of approving the contract, citing the need to have the surveillance system operational before the start of the new school year on Aug. 31. The initiative will be funded partly by federal COVID relief funds, specifically from the American Rescue Plan, in conjunction with local funds and grants.

The comprehensive nature of the project was acknowledged by board member Vereliz Santana, who requested regular updates as installation commences in June. Meanwhile, other board members sought clarification on how the system would address issues such as vaping detection.

The implementation of this surveillance system coincides with efforts by city leaders to tackle youth violence in Newark, including the impending enforcement of a youth curfew. Mayor Ras Baraka highlighted recent incidents of youth violence, underscoring the urgency of such measures.

Turn-Key’s system will not only expand the district’s surveillance capabilities but also incorporate advanced features such as weapon detection and license plate and facial recognition. Delays in installation occurred due to issues with bidders meeting licensing requirements, prompting revisions in project specifications.

In addition to upgrading surveillance technology, the district plans to utilize an “Avigilon surveillance system,” offering flexibility to adapt to evolving security needs. The system will be complemented by HALO sensors capable of detecting various anomalies, including vape and gun sounds, in areas without camera coverage.

Addressing privacy concerns, Valerie Wilson reassured that the surveillance system would not infringe on individuals’ privacy rights. She emphasized that cameras and devices would only be placed in approved and authorized areas.

The contract received approval from all board members except Crystal Williams, who abstained from voting. Discussions regarding security measures, including the type of vape sensors to be deployed, will be held in private committee meetings to avoid disclosing sensitive information.

Superintendent Roger León affirmed ongoing collaboration with the city’s Office of Emergency Management to implement additional safety measures in the upcoming school year. However, details of these initiatives will be shared with the public at a later stage.

Furthermore, Valerie Wilson clarified that city police officials would not have access to the surveillance system, which encompasses both indoor and outdoor areas of school buildings.

Over the years, Newark has invested millions in enhancing security measures, including the installation of metal detectors, provision of training for security personnel, and plans to recruit additional security guards and update incident tracking software.

The contract approval took place during the reorganization meeting, coinciding with the swearing-in of newly elected board members and the selection of board officers. Hasani Council was appointed as board president, with Vereliz Santana and Allison James-Frison as co-vice presidents.

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The New Jersey Digest is a new jersey magazine that has chronicled daily life in the Garden State for over 10 years.

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1 comment

Michael V May 16, 2024 - 9:32 am

You wonder why taxes are so high in New Jersey $1700 per camera Newark waste more money in a school district with a 50% graduation rate


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