“That’s how we will save lives,” Oklahoma school district using facial recognition on security cameras

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- This is the last full week of summer for many families.

Many Oklahoma students are scrambling to make sure they've got all of their school supplies in order.

Security is top of mind for moms and dads as the nation continues to mourn the loss of more than two dozen lives after two recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

In America, gun violence awareness is particularly acute on the campuses of the nation's schools.

Last year, there were two dozen school shootings; it was the deadliest year to be a student in America with more gun violence deaths in 2018 than any year on record.

School districts now train students and staff to prepare in the face of an attack.

Most students have experienced a 'lockdown' of their school because of an emergency on or near campus.

It is frustrating for students and their families.

"We come here to learn and to get an education," said Putnam City senior,  Dave Austin. "If you have to worry about a threat like not making it home that night ,you're not going to be learning that much."

At Putnam City Schools, they've spent $10 million in the past four years on school security.

Their network of surveillance cameras is monitored 24/7.

"We have someone in here in dispatch watching the cameras, monitoring alarms; making sure our schools are safe and secure even through the night," said Putnam City Schools Campus Police Chief Mark Stout.

The chief says the district already has a wide range of equipment at their disposal already: 900 cameras, 2,000 motion detection devices and 200 sound detection devices.

Those cameras are now fully equipped with facial recognition, installed on each of the district's high school campuses, middle school campuses and the alternative school.

"We're not here to track people. We're not here to see if Jimmy's going to class. We're here to keep kids safe," said Chief Stout.

Campus police plan to use the system to track a short list of people prohibited from entering the building.

The software allows users to input a "watch list" of suspects, that is, anyone who's not supposed to be in the building.

In practice, the cameras with facial recognition are able to positively identify an intruder within 15 seconds of entering the building.

Within 30 seconds, campus police are aware of the presence of the suspect.

Currently, the district is using facial recognition to watch for non-custodial parents, former employees or employee spouses, and students who've been expelled who aren't supposed to come back and runaways.

Often students who have left home will come back to school to meet up with friends.

"That peace of mind that I can go in and say, 'I need to know if this person enters my building' is just comforting," said Putnam City North High School Principal Carole Buhr.

Facial recognition software was a $20,000 upgrade to the existing fleet of cameras.

When the system went online last semester, many weren't even aware of the new capabilities.

Administrators believe facial recognition security removes an additional burden for students and teachers so they can stay focused in the classroom without worrying about danger lurking in the hallways.

"It's another layer that I'm going to know, and that my police department is going to know, when I've got a potential threat on campus," Buhr said. "If we can be proactive about it instead of reactive about it, that's how we will save lives."

Putnam City Schools tells us the facial recognition security upgrade was paid for with a combination of district budget funds and a school security bond issue, which was overwhelmingly supported by Putnam City voters.

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