Sheriff’s office set to tap into Spokane County school security systems

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office could soon be tapping in to the security system at your child’s school — but deputies promise they will not be spying on your kids.

In about two weeks, a partnership between the sheriff’s office and nine schools in Spokane County will go live and dispatchers will be able to get real-time feeds of school surveillance cameras in case of an emergency, like a fire or an active shooter on campus.

If it sounds a little “big brother” to you, undersheriff Dave Ellis tells 4 News Now dispatchers will only turn on the live feeds when they absolutely need to. With real-time surveillance, they’ll be able to point first responders in the right direction — down to a specific doorway or hallway.

“When you get these types of calls, often, 911 gets flooded with numerous calls from a whole bunch of different people and so sometimes, that information is conflicting, sometimes it’s misinformed, all those kind of things play into it and so, now we can get that real-time situational awareness to know exactly what we’re dealing with,” Ellis said. “They might be able to say that, ‘hey, there is a suspect in this part of the building, there’s two of them maybe, this is what they’re wearing, this is what they’re armed with.”

No one knows the pain an active shooter can inflict on a community quite like the Freeman Scotties. The tight-knit town was rocked when a student opened fire on his classmates in a crowded third-floor hallway at Freeman High School on Sept. 3, 2017. The shooting claimed the life of beloved Sam Strahan and injured three girls.

“You know, it just was a shock I think to all of us. It was one of those things that you never would expect that would happen,” said Freeman School District superintendent Randy Russell. “We’ve just been putting the pieces of this puzzle kind of back together over the last two years together. You know, some days are better than others. Some hours are better than others.”

Russell believes better days are ahead, thanks to this new partnership.

“We’re rebuilding and we’re expecting that we’re gonna be even stronger,” Russell said. “Three sets of eyes are always better than two. You know, five sets of eyes put together are better than one or two.”

Staff at Freeman, along with eight other school districts in Spokane County — including East Valley, West Valley, Central Valley, Mead, Deer Park, Riverside, Medical Lake and Liberty — will be notified within 24 hours if the sheriff’s office uses the surveillance system at their school for training or an emergency.

“You know, I look back on numerous incidents where I responded personally and I go, ‘boy, it sure would’ve been nice to have this technology in the past to know exactly what’s going on before we get there,'” Ellis said.

Ellis promises the partnership will not only help with response time, but it will help dispatchers tailor the response to incidents at local schools. The program, he said, came with minimal costs, since the sheriff’s office is utilizing existing equipment and personnel to get it off the ground. Ellis said the Cheney School District is looking into the partnership, while Spokane Public Schools is not included in the program.

While Russell hopes he never has to turn his surveillance system over to the sheriff’s office, it’s a relief to know the program will be there if he needs it.

“It helps you be able to do your job better, which is to serve the kids,” Russell said. “And it also just reminds you that you’re not alone.”