Beginning Dec. 1, the Nashville, Tenn., public school system will become what is believed to be the first school system in the country to implement face-recognition security cameras to spot intruders in its schools.

Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) will pilot the cameras in its central administrative office and at Harpeth Valley Elementary School, Gra-Mar Middle School, and Antioch High School.

Students, teachers, and school staff will have their pictures taken and uploaded into the system, so the cameras will recognize their images. When an unfamiliar person enters the building, and the camera cannot match that person’s face to a photo stored in its database, an alarm will sound.

MNPS has had security cameras in its schools for the past eight years, said Steve Keel, the district’s director of school security. But the face-recognition technology came to Keel’s attention after a district employee attended a conference and saw the system from Florida-based Cross Match Technologies.

While the face-recognition system can be installed several ways, Keel said he thinks the district will follow Cross Match’s recommendation to buy the type of camera it suggests. That camera is called an image quality indicator, or IQI, and is an IP-based camera.

“Our reasoning is that it can be portable, and with a Wi-Fi network, we can take that camera, say, if we have a basketball game, and we can move it to where the entrance is,” Keel said.

Earlier this fall, a suspended student entered SuccessTech Academy, an alternative high school in Cleveland, Ohio, and opened fire, wounding four people and killing himself. In the wake of these shootings, Nashville school officials said their system could be set up to detect suspended or expelled students and sound an alarm.

Keel said that while the district has not had any major trouble with trespassing, it has had some problems with suspended students coming back to school, as well as with students from one high school coming to a different high school to cause problems.

“We’re trying to be more proactive” with security, he said.

Some civil-rights groups say face-recognition cameras intrude on personal privacy, while other groups support the move as a deterrent to would-be school offenders.

“Schools should not feel like some sort of prison,” Melissa Ngo, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told USA Today.

But Keel believes such privacy concerns are unfounded.

“Right now, we take pictures of students for ID badges anyway, and that information is already available,” he said. “We’re not using this technology to track anybody–we’re trying to keep them out of the building before they create a disturbance or problem. When they’re on the school grounds, I’m interested in them and what they’re doing.”

Police departments in Florida and Virginia say they have tried the technology and discontinued its use after it did not help in finding wanted criminals.

“It got a lot of bad press [a few] years ago, but the technology has improved a lot since then,” Keel said.

The pilot project will run until the end of the school year, and the cameras’ performance will be evaluated at that point, he said.

MNPS, which has roughly 75,000 students, has cameras in every middle and high school, along with cameras in some elementary schools. Keel said the district is moving toward having camera systems in all elementary schools.

The entire pilot program will cost about $30,000 to run; the bulk of that cost is buying the required server.

“We’ll evaluate it after school’s out and decide what to do after the summer, and maybe issue an RFP if successful. We’d like to be able to integrate it with a badge system so that when visitors come they’ll be issued visitor badges and have their pictures taken,” Keel said.

Keel said he thinks other schools may follow suit if the pilot is successful.

Four years ago, an elementary school in Phoenix installed face-recognition security cameras to spot potential sex offenders entering the building. But a school district official told USA Today the cameras were never turned on, out of concern they would flag innocent people.

Other schools have used face-recognition technology to process school lunches.

Links:

Metro Nashville Public Schools

Cross Match Technologies

Electronic Privacy Information Center