By Beth A. Block
I’ve talked to many studio owners about security cameras. When we begin, the owner sees all the positives. I see the positives, too. I also see the negatives.
One of the first positives is the security. One of my clients was robbed. The robber wasn’t the brightest criminal. He looked straight into the camera before shooting it. The local police caught him within hours.
In another case, the studio owner found the cameras were a great training tool. She could not understand why new students were leaving so her school quickly. A review of 30 days of film showed she had an instructor using old-school discipline on her students.
She spent a couple of weeks working closely with this instructor to improve his methods. Now, he gets more positive feedback on social media than any of her other team members. Her time training staff is now spent effectively.
In a third situation, the studio owner had installed cameras at the same time he published the school’s Code of Conduct. When one potential new hire saw the “Zero Tolerance for Abuse” rule and the cameras, he faded away. We don’t know what that person might have done. We do know it didn’t happen in my client’s studio.
Clearly, cameras can be helpful. But let’s address how they might hurt you. Let’s also think about how you can effectively use cameras and avoid the pitfalls.
The first ugly claim I saw came from the blind spots. Cameras have blind spots, just like the mirrors in your car. In this case, the studio owner installed the cameras himself. He wasn’t worried about anything except the front of his mat.
Because of the blind spots, however, he didn’t address a problem with a volunteer. The volunteer grabbed a student by the hair during class. All the parents saw it!
That volunteer continued to teach there. Collectively, all the witnesses testified against the studio. This might have been avoided if the cameras had been professionally installed.
The second ugly claim came up because of an accusation. A mom came into the studio one afternoon claiming her daughter had been touched inappropriately by a junior instructor. Mom wanted to go back and see the tape.
The studio couldn’t review the tape because the time this supposedly happened was four months previously. The tape was recorded over by new video every seven days. Because the studio didn’t make everyone aware video was re-recorded every seven days, the mom’s attorney claimed the studio had spoiled evidence.
Across the country, spoliation of evidence is addressed by Civil Law. The penalties are severe. Generally, spoiled evidence is seen as a “cover up.” This leaves you in the position of losing just about every time you’d be sued.
One way to prevent this in your studio is to post a sign advising, “Security cameras are in use. Video is recorded over every _____ days.”
It’s also a good idea to put that information in your Student Handbook. This shapes everyone’s expectations.
The third ugly claim came in a studio that was trying to make a parent happy. A dad came into the studio asking to see the video of his daughter in class the day before. Dad was his normal friendly self.
The enrollment director was busy talking to a prospective new family. So, Dad was left alone to review the video. It turns out the reason he wanted to watch the video is because his daughter claimed she was pushed by another student in the drill line.
Dad pulled out his smart phone and made a video of the video. The girl was absolutely pushed by another student. It also turns out that the other student pushed her by placing hands on her chest and shoving. The video also showed her reporting it to an instructor. That instructor told her to get back in line!
The lesson to be learned here is twofold. Always review video yourself in private first, before letting a parent see. Secondly, don’t ever let parents record your video footage on any device. You also need to be sure you don’t give a copy of the video to the parent.
Once a situation has become escalated to the point parents are requesting copies of video, you need to be attorney-represented. Your insurance company should provide the attorney. You will need to give a copy of the video to your insurance company.
Beth A. Block can be reached at (800) 225-0863 or [email protected].
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