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Pact with sheriff targets school swatting

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

An agreement giving the Albany County Sheriff’s Office 24-hour remote access to RCS school district cameras is aimed at combating swatting reports, according to the district. File photo

RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — The RCS Board of Education approved an agreement that gives the Albany County Sheriff’s Office 24-hour access to cameras monitoring district schools.

The Sheriff’s Office is signing similar agreements with other school districts as a way to prevent the swatting incidents that have recently seen a surge in the Capital Region and across the state.

Swatting is the false reporting of an active shooter incident or other emergency to the police. Swatting calls have led to schools being put on lockdown or closed due to what turned out to be false reports.

“The sheriff’s office has asked all of the schools within their jurisdiction so that in the event of an emergency, they can see our cameras,” District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey told the board of education at the board’s April 5 meeting.

Sheriff’s deputies would be able to access the school district’s dozens of cameras from a remote location to determine whether a report is valid or a swatting call.

“This allows them to instantly see if someone calls in and tells them there is an active shooter… they can see the cameras and see that that is likely not true,” Bailey said. “It is confidential. It’s an agreement that we have with them and only they can see it.”

Board member Jennifer Molino asked if the sheriff’s office would only access the cameras on an as-needed basis.

“So it’s not general monitoring, it’s only in the event of an emergency?” Molino asked.

Bailey confirmed that was the case.

“The agreement states that they would have that [access] in an emergency situation,” Bailey said. “We also had our attorneys look at it as well to make sure the agreement was copacetic. We like to cooperate, though — it is very beneficial.”

The board of education unanimously approved the agreement, which went into effect April 5 and remains through March 31, 2024.

“Safe and quick response is imperative for Albany County Sheriff’s Office members when responding to all calls for service within Albany County,” according to the agreement. “‘Swatting’ is a criminal harassment term where individuals report fictitious events such as an active shooter to illicit a large-scale emergency response. Emergency camera access to district cameras shall assist with proper and effective resource deployment.”

“In the event of a swatting incident, camera access will mitigate the large-scale deployment of emergency services and alarm created in the surrounding community,” the agreement continues.

It is unclear how many cameras the district’s four schools have on site, but Bailey said there are “a lot.”

“The high school and the middle school are the ones with the greatest coverage, and both elementary schools are slated for improved coverage,” he said.

There are roughly 40 cameras inside and outside RCS High School alone, Bailey added.

School principals also have the ability to monitor the cameras, as well as the school resource officer.

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