Hillsborough County Public Schools in west central Florida is the third largest school district in the state and the eighth largest in the entire country, consisting of over 277 campuses that service 215,000 students. It also employs 25,000 teachers and non-instructional staff – making it the largest employer in the county.
That’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of students and staff that need protection, which is why John Newman, chief for the school district’s security and emergency management division, set out to find something the district was lacking: a comprehensive, integrated communication tool for its officers.
When former Governor Rick Scott announced in March a new law that would require law enforcement officers be stationed at every school in the state, Newman was designated as the Safe School Specialist for the county. In the role, Newman ensures all school sites are covered with either a law enforcement officer or an HCPS school security officer.
Not surprisingly, with any role that requires as much responsibility as Newman’s does, comes many obstacles and challenges. He discovered the county did not have a single reporting vessel or a legitimate computer-aided dispatch system to enable all security personnel to communicate in an emergency.
Prior to joining HCPS, Newman was the assistant chief of the Tampa Police Department, providing him with immeasurable knowledge in his new role on what an effective integrated security system should look like.
“I was shocked that we had no RMS or CAD to service the 120 officers in my charge. It was a priority for me and the safety of my personnel,” Newman told CS.
Newman chose Cyrun, a software solution provider, which gives schools the ability to combine reporting, incident management, risk mitigation and analytic tools. It is designed by law enforcement professionals to increase efficiency and responsiveness by managing all public safety incidents and tracking all personnel activities across one or more schools or school districts.
Newman says he chose Cyrun due to its customization abilities and ease of use. HCPS senior security staff and the district’s IT director have administrative access to the system and the county’s now 350 school officers are mandated to use it.
More Comprehensive Platform Improves Hillsborough Security
In addition to incident and officer reporting, Hillsborough uses Cyrun for gang tracking, parking citations, records management, personnel evaluations, personnel coursework tracking, and mapping, among other things. The software has particularly helped the district with connecting all officers located on various campuses.
“Prior to getting Cyrun, our reporting and communicating were strictly limited to the actual radio transmissions,” says Newman. “No documentation existed beyond what was being said. With a CAD and RMS system in place, we now have a vessel that connects my officers with our dispatch system through a more comprehensive platform.”
The software has also helped organize video data received through the schools’ surveillance systems.
There are currently over 1,100 cameras installed in over 50 Hillsborough County schools. Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, a basic camera system will be installed at every school within the district. The cameras are all connected by a 24-hour state-of-the-art communication center, located in Newman’s office.
Cyrun’s software allows the security department to capture and store photos associated with incidents or people. It can keep track of unwelcome people or photos of incident activity from the schools’ cameras.
Sergeant Adrian Neptune, the day patrol and communication center supervisor who also provides in-house training for the software, says it has been an effective prevention tool.
“This includes in common areas of campus where fights occur or for burglaries that may have occurred in a certain part of the county that schools are located in,” he told CS. “We are able to have officers check the campuses and surrounding campuses to prevent further burglaries from occurring.”
Neptune’s favorite features include records and incident management, banned persons alerts, mapping, and personnel coursework tracking.
“These features have made tracking and finding necessary information quickly,” he says. “It has taken away the hours of searching through paper records. It had provided better accountability for staff.”
Unsurprisingly, Newman says Parkland has had a huge effect on the county’s school safety practices, but Cyrun has made the changes easier.
“From hiring more officers, to conducting site vulnerability surveys, to capturing work productivity, mental health incidents and target hardening efforts, we have had to deal with all of these,” he says. “Parkland has been a game changer for the state of Florida and school safety. Having been intimately engaged in the events that occurred on February 14, 2018, and directly impacted by the mandates that came out of the legislature and Parkland Commission recommendations, I am grateful we already had Cyrun in place. It captured — and continues to capture — threat response efforts at our sites.”
How to Pick a Security Software Solution That’s Right for You
Choosing security integration software for your campus is a big deal. If your campus is currently looking to do so, there are some things you should consider first.
Since it will likely be a significant monetary investment, you’ll need to also invest time in a demonstration of the software(s). Most vendors will offer a screen-share meeting or conference call to give you a live look into each of the software’s capabilities. Be sure to have a list of goals and needs on hand and to focus your time on the software’s abilities that will help meet your school or district’s specific needs.
When it comes to incident reporting, specifically, a good software should:
- Have the ability to document and track citations
- Have an officer log so management can track officer efficiency
- Have a parking permit module
- Have the ability to track keys
- Be able to manage property (lost and found)
- Automatically alert key players of important incidents and events
- Track trespassers
When researching software solutions, decision-makers should consider the initial investment, as well as monthly and annual costs. Some companies offer flexible pricing, which can be adjusted to meet specific organizational requirements or goals. It is also important to understand the vendor’s upgrading process so you can consider other potential costs.
The software should also allow you to share data within your district or between jurisdictions, if you choose to do so, without compromising data security.
Additionally, be sure to inquire about the type of training and customer support that will be provided to your administrators and employees after the software is implemented.
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