A wall of digitized screens show surveillance camera footage of Utica High School during a Feb. 20 demonstration at the Macomb County Department of Roads and COMTEC Thomas S. Welsh Building in Mount Clemens. The purpose was to show how law enforcement can gain access to the school camera feeds to save lives in an active shooter event.

A wall of digitized screens show surveillance camera footage of Utica High School during a Feb. 20 demonstration at the Macomb County Department of Roads and COMTEC Thomas S. Welsh Building in Mount Clemens. The purpose was to show how law enforcement can gain access to the school camera feeds to save lives in an active shooter event.

Photo by Eric Czarnik


Macomb County’s school emergency response tech seeks to keep students safer

By: Eric Czarnik, Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published March 7, 2018

MOUNT CLEMENS — In the wake of the latest school shooting, in which a man killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Macomb County officials and schools are looking into more ways to keep their students safe.

During a Feb. 20 press conference, county and school officials described a partnership through which county law enforcement officials can access school security camera feeds.

The press conference, held at the Macomb County Department of Roads and COMTEC Thomas S. Welsh Building in Mount Clemens, demonstrated how a command room equipped with monitors and screens could save lives in crisis situations, such as an active shooter in the schools.

“What’s happening today is a concern for many of us: I think those that are working in the schools, obviously law enforcement, those that are responsible as government personnel, and more important, parents,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said.

Hackel said local police are working with school superintendents to see if there are additional ways to improve student safety. 

The COMTEC center was built in 2013 and holds communications technology for multipurpose uses, ranging from road activity and traffic signals to emergency management. Inside the center, a prominent wall contains 54 digitized monitors on a 20-by-50-foot screen that can simultaneously monitor all sorts of video feeds or combine them into one giant image.

Hackel explained that there was a time when schools didn’t have security cameras, but they are becoming more widespread, and the county has the capability to tap into those cameras should an emergency response to a threat be needed.

While law enforcement has long been prepared to respond to shooting incidents, the aggregated camera feeds will give law enforcement command officers quick access to maps and building schematics. It will also allow commanders to see what’s happening inside and outside schools in real time, thus making it easier to help officers maneuver their way through rooms and hallways.

“It gives us an incredible advantage,” Hackel said. “So if there was somebody hiding in the multipurpose room or somebody hiding in a bathroom or someplace in one of the schools, we’re able to see that live.

“So now when the officers are responding to the SWAT team, my gosh; you have one of their commanders talking to their officers live as they’re going through that school, telling them, ‘Hey, there are kids that are hunkered down in one of the rooms. You know what, there’s a door that leads to outside. Maybe somebody can breach that door and get those kids to safety.’”

Hackel said that almost all of the county’s school districts have some type of camera system. He said all of the school districts are aware of the county’s COMTEC setup, and local school districts such as Chippewa Valley and Fraser have expressed interest in testing out the system, as have some private schools and even companies.

Chippewa Valley Superintendent Ron Roberts said discussions have been had about testing the system in Chippewa Valley Schools and that it would be a cooperative project between the county and the Macomb Intermediate School District.

Dakota High School had the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office respond to a threat written in a bathroom on Feb. 15 and reports the following day that students heard someone say they had a gun. No credible threat was found.

Roberts said the collaboration with the county and local law enforcement is another way to ensure the safety of his students.

“I see this as a tool that can help our schools be safer because we do have amazing technology in all our school buildings,” Roberts said. “With Macomb County and the Sheriff’s Office as a partner, there is a lot of potential. The possibility will exist in an emergency when you can’t access the video yourself that someone can.”

Roberts said the district has hired more security at both Chippewa Valley High School and Dakota that check visitors in before they enter the building. The high school buildings are the only ones that don’t require visitors to be buzzed in, rather having a security check-in desk inside.

Roberts said that was because of the amount of traffic that goes in and out of the high school with different classes.

Hackel added the police are only given the camera feeds when they need it in an emergency, and police would not have access afterward.

“There’s always this concern about Big Brother,” he said. “It’s not like we’re sitting there with these 50 monitors watching kids eat in a lunchroom or play kickball out in the playgrounds. That’s not what we’re doing here.”

In addition, Hackel touted the importance of situational awareness in preventing school violence, and he asked the public to inform law enforcement personnel if someone or something appears to be out of place, even if it’s a social media post.

He asked the media to follow through on reporting what happens to young people who are caught scribbling threats on a wall or making fake threats via phone, letters or social media posts — all of which wastes law enforcement’s time. 

The idea, he said, is for publicity to make parents aware that causing disturbances is not a harmless prank.

“Maybe draw some media attention to what happens to those people if and when they are found,” Hackel said. “More times than not, we do discover who those people are. And I know we have a prosecutor here, Eric Smith, who doesn’t take that lightly. He will actually charge those kids.”

With numerous threats being reported at schools around metro Detroit since the shooting in Florida, Roberts said it is also important to educate students to report incidents as well as know the seriousness of making a threat, even if they have no intention of following through with it.

“This is not a subject to be joked about and is taken extremely seriously by us and law enforcement,” Roberts said. “We have talked to students and are also trying to get the message to parents that they need to have a discussion with their kids that this is a serious matter.

“This is all our responsibility. Kids sometimes don’t think before they speak and may use threatening words that may not pose a threat. Kids don’t understand, but we can’t assume they don’t pose a threat.”