Should Your Organization Install Surveillance Cameras?

Surveillance camera protecting building

Whether or not to install surveillance cameras is a question many organizations face, but the answer can sometimes be confusing. Installing a surveillance system can be a positive step and a recommended control measure in an organizational risk management program. Desirable outcomes that support this include the following:

  • Deterrence measure for someone considering committing a criminal act
  • Verifiable record of events leading to potentially defensible arguments during trial litigation
  • Real-time monitoring and supervision from remote locations

Although there are many benefits to installing a surveillance camera system, there are also many legal liabilities and pitfalls that should be considered.

Surveillance Camera FAQs and Considerations

Are surveillance cameras a breach of an individual’s privacy?

Before answering this question, it is important to note that a thorough review of state and local laws regarding privacy rights is necessary to understand exactly what is (or isn’t) legal. It’s a good idea to seek legal advice from an attorney who specializes in such law.

Common areas within buildings and external environments are traditionally held as public areas, and therefore, it’s legal to install cameras and record the footage with no violation of privacy. This is because an individual within these areas is “in normal view of the public” so that individual’s privacy cannot be violated because it’s reasonable to assume the individual is aware of this condition.

Privately owned property, identified as such, is another area with no concern for violating privacy. In this case, an individual could be considered criminally trespassing on the property, which voids any right to privacy since said individual shouldn’t be there in the first place.

General areas to watch out for when installing surveillance cameras include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Restrooms
  • Locker rooms
  • Changing rooms and/or areas
  • Nursing rooms
  • Sleeping quarters
  • Saunas and spa treatment rooms
  • Tanning booth rooms
  • Medical treatment rooms
  • Mental health treatment areas

It’s commonly acceptable to install surveillance cameras at access points to these areas, but the cameras shouldn't be trained to show inside these areas. In cases of child endangerment concerns, these areas present a higher risk and recording access points is a priority.

Do we recommend surveillance cameras in childcare program areas?

Yes, we recommend installing surveillance cameras in childcare program areas. The prevailing counterpoint to this recommendation is that the recorded footage could create a risk when depicting a potential incriminating activity. While this is a fair and valid point, it simply doesn’t present sufficient reason to justify not installing cameras. The positive consequences significantly outweigh the negative consequences. Examples of this include the following:

  • Cameras can provide valuable evidence when attempting to properly evaluate incidents for facts.
  • Video surveillance footage is often superior to witness statements.
  • Video surveillance footage could be exculpatory for your organization.
  • Video surveillance footage could help improve the response time to reported allegations of abuse.
  • Video surveillance could support an allocation of resources to survivors and their families.
  • Video surveillance can provide other pertinent information, such as confirming adequate staff-to-child ratios (a common issue attorneys argue when alleging inadequate supervision).
  • Cameras can help identify where staff members are positioned relative to the children.

Which areas of a childcare facility should cameras focus on?

In general, cameras should cover the following:

  • Entrances to bathrooms (or the hallway to the bathrooms, depending on the layout of the facility)
  • Any commonly used entrance/exit to a building or high-value commodity
  • Any large area where children would be engaged in play/activities, especially if the areas have athletic or gymnastics equipment
    • If a program takes place in a gym, a single camera with good resolution can typically provide adequate coverage.

Should we give parents/guardians access to log in to the camera system and watch their children in the program?

Allowing real-time remote viewing of program areas by an authorized parent/guardian is not a significant concern if there are proper privacy/authentication measures in place. As technology advances, this is a feature that more and more childcare programs offer, and this feature may give parents/guardians reassurance that their children are being properly supervised. However, we do recommend against permitting parents/guardians to record or copy video footage.

How long is it recommended to retain surveillance footage?

In general, a minimum of 30 days and some way to retrieve the footage beyond that period are recommended if possible. This is mainly because of delays in reporting incidents to your organization. If the alleged event occurred 15 days before the report, then you might not be able to collect the footage. In cases of childcare facilities, the ability to retrieve beyond the 30-day period would help in the event of a “revivor” allegation.

What kind of surveillance system should we install, and do you have a preferred vendor?

Improvements in technology present us with more options today than ever before. From DIY to professional installation options, selecting the right system can feel overwhelming. There are currently no preferred vendors for surveillance camera systems, but there are certain features you want to ensure for a surveillance camera system. Below are some key loss control considerations:

  • Overall quality of the footage is key. HD/High-resolution cameras will provide the highest quality. This is important because recordings that are grainy and hard to see are essentially useless. You should be able to see what is happening and who is doing it. This may also require additional lighting in darker areas.
  • Clear timestamping is critical to the ensuing investigation. The ability to tell what is happening and when it happens is a major benefit of surveillance cameras.
  • The number of cameras installed is important since blind spots situated in certain places pose a serious concern. It is important to install the necessary number of cameras in critical areas so there are no blind spots.

When it comes to the quality of surveillance camera footage, you truly do get what you pay for. Don’t assume your organization is protected simply because you have cameras installed. Poor-quality footage can render the system useless. This isn’t a time to save a few bucks at the risk of not getting the return on investment when it’s needed the most.

What are the recommended best practices for effective surveillance system operations?

  • When in doubt, engage a professional for assistance in making informed decisions about installation.
  • Have an established procedure in place to immediately access, review and save video footage any time an incident occurs.
  • Ensure that staff members are adequately trained on how to correctly operate the system.
  • Plan for consistency with hardware selection. In cases of multiple physical locations, ensure that the same (or compatible) hardware is installed so that all locations are connected to the same system.
  • If possible, include the video footage at the time a claim is filed with your insurance carrier.
  • Regularly ensure that the system is turned on and functioning properly. When issues are noted, quickly correct the issues, and return the system to normal operation.

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