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COMMENTARY: Cameras in some Clark County School District classrooms could save the district millions

Do the opponents of cameras in certain special-needs classrooms have their arguments exactly backwards?

Lobbying Nevada’s legislators, they’ve cited the supposed high costs of video cameras, of servers to host the requisite software and of personnel to staff the operation.

What the lobbyists have failed to provide to lawmakers and the public, however, are any estimates of the savings that school districts would likely receive in the form of reduced costs from litigation and complaint-resolution.

Consider the significant savings for the Metropolitan Police Department identified in 2017 by a year-long study on the impact of police body cameras. Jointly conducted by UNLV’s Center for Crime and Justice Policy and the national nonprofit research organization CNA, the randomized control trial began in 2014 and concluded in 2015.

According to Chip Coldren, managing director of justice programs at CNA and one of the report’s authors, the study “provides compelling evidence cameras can generate savings by simplifying complaint resolution, which can add up to millions of dollars for a major city and lead to large reductions in the use of force by police.”

Interviewed by the Dallas Morning News, Andrew Miller, a criminology professor at the University of Texas-Dallas, acknowledged that storing video footage and hiring staff to make necessary redactions on the videos can be costly. Nevertheless, he said, “The cameras essentially pay for themselves in terms of reduced civil litigation.”

Just last month, the Clark County School District agreed to pay $1.2 million to three families to settle a multiyear lawsuit over the physical and verbal abuse by district personnel of three nonverbal autistic students. However, that $1.2 million was almost certainly less than half of the actual cost of the lawsuit to the district — and thus to Nevada taxpayers.

While the settlement included $400,000 for each of the three families, the legal costs to the district will also include another $1 million, the Review-Journal noted, to cover plaintiff attorney fees “not to exceed $500,000” and “other costs estimated at roughly $425,000” but yet to be determined.

Thus, even before the district’s outside counsel in the case, Greenberg Traurig, presents its bill, the on-the-record costs of this single special-education lawsuit are already totaling well more than $2 million. However, should the defense counsel fees and costs — and the resultant bill — be at all comparable to those of plaintiffs’ counsel, the final cost to the district could easily approach $3 million.

But even that sum still leaves out all of the district’s in-house financial costs — all the people sidetracked from education to respond to the attorneys’ depositions, interrogatories, etc. It also leaves out the significant nonfinancial costs the district has sustained — to its moral reputation and to the credibility of its programs and top officers.

All this from just one particular lawsuit — Hurd et. al. v CCSD et al. — against a district that is hit by many similar special-education lawsuits every year.

Then there are the complaints that proceed not through the courts but through the hearing and appeal process that the state of Nevada provides under federal disability law. Attracting little public attention, they nevertheless exact a significant public cost.

Bottom line: The total costs at issue are virtually incalculable.

Thus, the importance of the cost savings revealed by the UNLV-CNA study — where net savings to Metro in back-office costs from each body-worn camera were “estimated to be between $2,909 and $3,178 per user, per year.”

Call that annual per-camera net savings merely $3,000. If the numbers of officers on the street wearing the cameras are estimated at 2,500, Metro is saving $7.5 million each year — a significant sum.

So while many particulars differ in the immediate situations faced by police officers and special-ed teachers, similarities abound within the administrative and other responsibilities incumbent upon their parent organizations.

In other words, the “expense” argument against the cameras-in-classrooms legislation is largely disingenuous.

Steven Miller is a senior vice president at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a Las Vegas think tank.

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