Trees vs. Security at Berkeley High School

By RIO BAUCE, Special to the Planet
Tuesday December 11, 2007

Last week at Berkeley High School (BHS) two of the school’s 209 trees, those in front of the on-campus first-floor entrance to the divide between the G and H buildings, were trimmed to prevent growth that would block security cameras. 

“With smaller trees, we just routinely lop off the tops of them so that they don’t grow in the way of the motion cameras,” said Al Wilright, director of maintenance at BHS. “It takes up memory space when we have trees blocking the view of the cameras.” 

However, local arborist (and Planet columnist) Ron Sullivan thinks that lopping off the tops of trees can be detrimental to tree health. 

“Topping trees is sloppy practice and not good for the trees’ health,” said Sullivan. “A tree in bad health often becomes a dangerous tree, particularly when weakly attached branches that form after topping get big enough to hurt when they break off and fall on someone. Topping also leaves a tree more prone to disease and rot than better pruning does.” 

Furthermore, Sullivan argues that while you may not see any problems for a while, they will eventually arise. 

“If the ‘smaller’ trees are so young that the tops being cut off are finger-size or narrower, you can get away with it for years,” commented Sullivan. “But you’ll end up with just a weird tree with a bouquet of pencils on top. Get a real arborist in there to redirect the growth, or cut your losses and admit that the ‘memory space’ in the cameras is more important than the trees. Cheap tree work, like any cheap surgery, will cost more in the long run.” 

Security cameras were installed on campus after school started in 2000, when an April 5 arson fire had caused $2 million in damage. Due to advice from the police and fire departments and pressure from then-Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, a large number of security cameras were installed on campus to improve campus safety and to deter students from pulling fire alarms. 

“Before I got here, the School Board voted to install these cameras so that the administration can view them to protect student’s rights,” said BHS Principal Jim Slemp. “We don’t watch the cameras unless we need to use them to follow up on an incident. They have been very effective to determine honesty when there is a fight. It’s also very helpful to have recorded evidence in case somebody pulls a fire alarm in a non-emergency.” 

In general, students don’t find the cameras to be particularly helpful, but don’t oppose their presence. 

“It’s good to have them at our school,” said BHS senior Janet Kenmotsu, 17. “I don’t have a problem with them. However, I doubt how effective they actually are. A little while ago, a person stole my teacher’s camera and after they looked at the security cameras, the security staff wasn’t able to get any information from them. I suppose that in other cases, they would be useful.”