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Livingston High gets 16 security cameras

School officials have confirmed that Big Brother will soon be taking residence at Livingston High School — and they don't mean the reality show.

The Merced Union High School District recently approved a $224,000 project to place 16 surveillance cameras at the Livingston campus this summer.

"The plan is to have them in by August," said LHS Principal Ralph Calderon.

Half of the project is being paid for with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS. The other half will be covered by district funds.

The grant — received by the Livingston Police Department last year — is part of COPS Secure our Schools program, which assists law enforcement agencies develop school safety resources and improve security at area campuses.

And that, Livingston Police Chief Bill Eldridge said, is exactly what he expects will happen once the cameras are operational.

"Cameras don't stop all crimes, but they are a deterrent," Eldridge said. "We think it's going to be a very positive thing all the way around."

The cameras, which will be placed outdoors all around the Main Street campus, will feed back to monitors and recording devices at the school.

"We will have a wireless feed back to the police station," Calderon said.

Eldridge said that while police dispatch won't be recording any of the footage from the cameras at Livingston High, workers there will be able to watch live what is happening on campus at any given time.

"We've got a big 40-inch screen," Eldridge added.

If the police department needs recordings for evidence purposes, Eldridge said, they will be acquired from the school site.

Both Eldridge and Calderon say they expect the cameras will help cut down the instances of vandalism — specifically graffiti — that occur periodically on campus.

"I've had cameras at other campuses," where Calderon has worked, he said. "It's certainly a deterrent."

District officials hope to have those deterrents up at all campuses soon, said Diane Hockersmith, deputy superintendent of business services.

"We're working on similar COPS grants for the other schools," in the district, she said.

The district is working with both the cities of Merced and Atwater to submit grant applications for cameras at Merced, Golden Valley, Atwater, Buhach Colony high schools as well as the East Campus Educational Center on G Street.

Merced's City Council approved a partnership with the district to apply for this grant on June 2. In that agreement, the district estimated the total project cost for the three Merced campuses would be $800,000 — half coming from the COPS grant and half from district coffers.

That grant proposal is due to COPS today, Hockersmith said. Arrangements for purchasing and placing cameras at its Atwater and Merced school sites will be made once the district's request for the grant money — on behalf of the cites — is accepted.

COPS was created through the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 "to advance the practice of community policing as an effective strategy to improve public safety," states its Web site. About $13 million in grant money is available to law enforcement agencies this year.

Eldridge has his fingers crossed.

"Safety-wise, cameras are a big asset," on any campus, he said. "And the safest environment we can create is the direction we want to go."

[TAIL_FL]Reporter Abby Souza can be reached at (209)385-2407 or asouza@mercedsun-star.com.

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