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How Police, Communities Keep Empty Schools Safe During Summer

SACRAMENTO -- Of course, the summer months make for some empty school campuses and the lack of people often will invite vandalism and theft.

Vince Matranga is the former chief of police at the Sacramento City Unified School District, a post he held for several decades. He says every summer on campuses windows would break and graffiti would appear.

"Breaking into the classrooms, destroying classrooms, offices, cafeterias. It just got completely out of hand," Matranga said.

One of the worst cases he can remember was back in 1999. Five teens broke into Luther Burbank High School's theater and turned on four water hoses. The theater was flooded with around 200,000 gallons of water, Matranga said, causing $1 million worth of damage.

"There was a piano down here, instruments, all kinds of items that belonged to the music department were completely submerged," Matranga said.

He says the problem has actually gotten a lot better.

"Cameras were the biggest help in making arrests," Matranga told FOX40.

Over the years, SCUSD has entered the digital age, upgrading their systems to catch vandals in the act.

"We have a security camera system. We have motion sensors," said Alex Barrios with the school district. "We have a lot of things that we're doing proactively to try to protect our schools."

The district says one of the best things about the system is that security footage can be accessed remotely. So a security guard can pull it up on his phone before he even gets to the campus.

But technology can fail.

"You could spend millions of dollars on surveillance cameras, upgrading your intrusion and fire alarm systems, but nothing can beat the school watch program that we started,” Matranga said.

That program sent volunteers door to door, handing out flyers to neighbors who lived by school campuses. They asked residents to keep an eye out and reminding them who to call if they saw something suspicious.

"That was the best tool that we had to stop vandalism and burglaries,” Matranga said.

School districts and police forces across the state hope people will continue to watch campuses this summer. After all, we're all footing the bill for the damages.

“We pay for these windows. We pay for these supplies. We pay for these fields," Barrios said.

SCUSD says it no longer goes door to door to warn neighbors but instead sends out emails to let them know only janitorial staff should be on campus during the summer.