Panel approves $43M door locking and camera security system for NYC Public Schools

Friday, February 17, 2023
Panel approves $43M door locking and camera system for NYC schools
A panel just approved a plan to enhance security at New York City schools. Derick Waller has more.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A New York City panel just approved a plan to enhance security at city schools, but critics say the new system is expensive and may not work as intended.

The city's Panel for Education Policy, or PEP, voted Thursday night to award a one-year, $42.6 million contract to Long Island-based Symbrant Technologies.

But the contract could be extended, eventually costing taxpayers an estimated $78 million, panelists said.

Symbrant Technologies is now tasked with installing a system-wide remote door locking and camera system, a buzzer system, on more than 1,700 city school buildings.

Right now, the front doors are unlocked and manned by an unarmed NYPD school safety agent.

Over a Zoom meeting, NYC schools Chancellor David Banks pleaded with panelists to approve the funding.

"I stay up at night, when I watch on these national TV shows about people walking into our schools and shooting up the schools. That's what this was an attempt try to do deal with," Banks said.

But some panelists wanted to table the vote until they learned more, like where the video would be stored and who would have access to it.

"I'm not saying it is the answer and I'm not saying it's not. I'm saying, where is the engagement and the discussion? Where is the data? Where is the information?" panelist Sheree Gibson asked.

"I really think we need more information," panelist Jessamyn Lee said. "We're talking about nearly $80 million in public funds between DOE and mayoral allocations here and I think we need to be very serious with our money."

Panelist Tazin Azad noted that some recent shootings involving students didn't happened in the school. They happened right outside.

"If the doors are locked, God forbid something happens outside and those kids are caught," Azad said. "Who's going to take the blame?"

But panelist Anthony Giordano pushed back.

"In this time, where we voted no and something happened in the interim? I'm not going to be able to sleep because we as a PEP board didn't do everything we can. The money is there now. The time is now," Giordano said.

But independent school security expert Ken Trump, who has served as an expert witness in litigation involving school shootings, including the massacre at Sandy Hook, worried the plan may result in something he calls security theater.

"We don't want security theater, where we're putting in all the bells and whistles that people can point to and say, 'See, we made your kids safer,' but it's just an emotional security blanket," Trump told Eyewitness News.

"Focus on your people," he said. "When security fails, it's due to human factors."

To that point, panelist Ephraim Zakry worried the wrong people might get buzzed in.

"In a big school, people just get buzzed in," Zakry said. "There's no way they can stop and wait. They don't know the parents. They don't know. It's going to be very, very hard to not buzz people in automatically and in that case it does very little."

In a statement, a DOE spokesperson told Eyewitness News, "At the center of all we do is student safety and wellbeing. The proposed system will add an additional layer of security to ensure student safety. Currently, every one of our public schools keeps every door locked and alarmed, except the front door, which is staffed by NYPD School Safety Agents."

A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers did not immediately comment.

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