More surveillance cameras are going up in Walpole and Foxborough, where town meetings voted this month to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to install the devices at schools and other public buildings.
The Walpole measure to spend $243,000 on cameras passed on a voice vote last week, despite a protest campaign by Walpole High School students, who circulated petitions and voiced their concerns about invasion of privacy before both the School Committee and Town Meeting.
Cameras will be added at Walpole’s water-treatment plants, Town Hall, recreation, and other town buildings, and at the schools.
In Foxborough, meanwhile, only one person raised questions about a $112,000 request for 70 surveillance cameras at the town’s five schools. The measure was passed, 214 to 0, at Town Meeting on Monday. The schools currently have cameras only at main entrances.
The money will be used to place cameras along the exterior of the buildings, as well as in main corridors, officials said.
‘A couple of years back there was a guy breaking into the school. . . and stealing wallets and gift cards. We were able to track him and could even see [his car] license plate.’
Foxborough resident Dennis Naughton, a 39-year teacher and former school principal, said he worried about the cameras’ effect on the educational landscape.
“I understand this is probably a reaction to what happened in Newtown, Conn., and we all understand that times aren’t what they once were,’’ Naughton said. “But I’m concerned. This is a serious matter. . . . When you think about it, staff and students will be watched by these cameras all day, every day.”
Foxborough police Chief Edward O’Leary tried to allay another of Naughton’s fears: that police will swoop into the schools to handle fights and other issues if they are caught on tape.
“We are not looking to arbitrarily make arrests, especially not when the schools have been handling things in a capable manner,” O’Leary said.
The two towns’ decisions to increase surveillance are part of a national and local trend. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that more than 60 percent of public schools nationwide had surveillance cameras in 2010, up from less than 20 percent in 2000.
And although Massachusetts does not keep statistics on cameras in public schools, most local districts report having them in varying numbers.
Weymouth, for example, has 225 cameras inside and outside its high school alone, according to the assistant superintendent, Matthew Ferron. Tiny Hull High School has 48 cameras, and another 32 each at both its elementary and middle schools, according to Judi Saide, the system’s information technology director.
“We use them mostly for security; they’re a great deterrent for vandalism,” Saide said. “We’ve also solved some crimes with them, working with the police. A couple of years back there was a guy breaking into the school, while the football team was out practicing, and stealing wallets and gift cards. We were able to track him [with the cameras] and could even see [his car] license plate.”
Walpole Town Meeting members added a proviso to its permission for the new cameras: Officials must write a policy about how they will be used, according to the town clerk, Ron Fucile.
The policy should say who will monitor the cameras, who will be allowed to view the footage, and how long the images will be kept, Fucile said. The policy does not need approval of a future Town Meeting, he said.
School Superintendent Lincoln Lynch said he would form a committee of parents, students, faculty, and administrators to draft the policy and bring it to the School Committee. He said he hoped to have the cameras installed by next fall.
Currently, there are cameras at the entrances to all Walpole schools and a few more at Walpole High, Lynch said. The plan calls for raising the number at the high school to 18, and adding five cameras at each of six other schools in town, he said.
“With the cameras, [if] an incident occurs, there will be a live feed to the police station and they can identify and locate an intruder and get to that intruder much quicker,” Lynch said. “Rather than going into a building blind, it would be much safer for the first responders, too.”
Walpole High School’s principal, Stephen Imbusch, who has asked for more cameras for the past five years, said the cameras primarily act as deterrents to bad behavior.
“If an incident does occur — like a theft, vandalism, destruction of property, or some kind of assault or fight — it gives us very timely information as to what occurred and how we can pursue dealing with it,” Imbusch said. “It may help with locating a school shooter, although I see that as something that might never be used and certainly rarely.”
Michael Boynton, the town administrator, said the article passed by Town Meeting provides $125,000 for cameras at the schools, $45,000 for cameras at the water-treatment plants, and $73,000 for Town Hall, the Recreation Department, and other town buildings.
“We believe it to be a proactive measure to enhance our facility security,” he said.
In Foxborough, school officials said they plan to install 16 cameras inside and outside Foxborough High School, 16 cameras at Ahern Middle School, 12 to 14 cameras at Vincent Igo Elementary School, and 10 to 12 at the town’s other two elementary schools.
In both towns, the money for the cameras comes from the capital improvement budget.