Sexual Assault at School, Faulty Cameras Cited

By Carlton Purvis, Published Nov 27, 2013, 12:00am EST

After a female student was carried to an empty room and sexually assaulted, a local TV station reported that the cameras were not working [link no longer available] during the time of the incident. A Kansas City Public Schools spokesman later confirmed the cameras were broken and that they were not fixed until the day after the incident.

In this note, we share our findings from speaking with the school and the integrator about what happened with the cameras and how they impacted this case.

The System and Its Role

The system costed nearly $1 million and includes Panasonic cameras and SmartVue NVRs.

Contrary to what the news story implies, there were no cameras positioned in places that would have provided much information to the case, according to the integrator. However, we could not verify this.

Here is the video from the story [link no longer available]:

Problems with the System

The problems with the district’s camera systems were usually easy fixes, according to Robert Harper, president of 
ACS Electronic Systems, but sometimes took weeks to coordinate repairs. 

For example, a power outage knocked out 13 cameras at a one high school and they only needed to be reset. At another high school a construction project damaged a server and cabling. At another school a camera and server went missing after a construction project. 

“I don’t think any of these are necessarily unusual items for a dealer. The difference is that [Kansas City Public Schools] is hard to deal with,” Harper said.

The problem at Southwest Early College Campus, the school where the sexual assault happened, was caused by the district’s own IT department, according to the integrator.  

After a network switch went out, ACS reset the switch.

Emails between the school’s security staff and ACS show the school contacted the integrator on August 16th and again on August 19th when the cameras went out again. On the 22nd, ACS went to the school, but no one with a key to the server room was available to let them reset the switch or troubleshoot the problem (IT has a key to the room, but only security, who doesn’t have a key, is there after hours).

The school’s security director says he couldn’t get a hold of ACS again for days. ACS finally confirmed and appointment for August 30th. The following is an email sent to ACS one day before the sexual assault:

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When ACS finally did get in to the closet, they found that IT department had changed the "port addresses." The cameras were functioning, but the data wasn’t going where it was supposed to be.

Bad Communication Between School and Integrator

ACS is under contract to be on call for any service requests in the district, but also works with 40 other school districts or campuses in the Kansas City area.

An initial look at the documents released by the school district seems to show the company was generally unresponsive. Emails released in response to a public records request from KSHB show ACS Electronic Systems, the company responsible for maintenance of the system sometimes would not respond to requests for weeks.

However, ACS says the emails don't necessarily show the whole story and that miscommunication came from lack of organization on the part of the district, which had 14 people in several different departments communicating with ACS about maintenance requests. 

The school doesn't deny that. With too many people who could send a request to ACS it was hard for the integrator to prioritize requests, and there were several people contacting him from several different schools, the district spokesman admitted.

“We had been having difficulties leading up to the assault and unfortunately that happened and it pushed us to act more quickly,” the district spokesman said. “We knew the cameras weren’t working a week or two ahead of time. We were working with ACS, we just couldn’t get it tidied up fast enough.” 

The integrator says they were calling the school back, but even with those returned calls they would make little progress. “We were originally told more than once that the security director had to approve any service requests. We would get an email from one of the 14 people and we would pick up the phone and call the person who was supposed to approve it, the security director,” he said. “The security director would pick up the phone and say ‘Let me check on that’ and we would wait. And then we would get another email from the person and we’d call again and the director would say ‘Oh, I’m still working on that.’ If we don’t get approved by the security director for the work, then we don’t get paid.”

Communication Plan Established

The school district and ACS had a meeting where both sides agreed to do more to facilitate communication. The district has designated three people who would be authorized contact ACS for maintenance requests. ACS designated a single person to be the point of contact for the school.

They also came up with a triage system to prioritize requests and mandate response times. A new agreement between Kansas City Public Schools says requests for critical repairs must be responded to within 24 hours, critical but non life-threatening repairs must have a response within three days and for non-critical repairs they will work out a mutually beneficial time to get them fixed.

The district plans to create an in-house position for someone who can take care of the surveillance systems too. And now ACS says it follows every verbal communication with an email. He said the school has repeatedly declined a $25 per month system health monitoring service. 

Contract Renewal

The district’s contract is up for renewal in December. The school declined to say what the new contract would look like because it is still being worked out, but said it would likely include some changes to maintenance procedures. 

IPVM Recommendations

While IPVM can not determine the specific issues in this case, some clear principles are illustrated:

Most importantly, larger end users should ensure they have a clear internal reporting structure with one, or at most a few central individuals, reporting and managing issues with an integrator. By contrast, having lots of people report problems individually can cause problems. 

A maintenance plan that covered all service in an annual fee rather than having to approve every issue piecemeal (as it occurred here) would have radically simplified the maintenance process as it eliminates the need of customer approval to ensure payment. See our Service / Maintenance Contracts Guide

Integrators need access to both user facilities and restricted resources (like rooms and networking equipment). This can be difficult to coordinate and is easy source of strife (e.g., each party blaming each other).

Members, what else would you recommend to do to minimize this type of problem?

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