Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fairfax Fed Up With Lunch-Line Thieves

$1 Million Loss Leads to Security Cameras in School Cafeterias

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 4, 2008; Page A01

For the first time, video cameras will monitor Fairfax County high school cafeterias this fall to keep students from pilfering chicken wraps or veggie burgers in the lunch line.

The region's largest school system is turning to video surveillance, already widely used on school buses and outside school buildings, to combat what officials say has become a pervasive problem: food theft. The school system's food and nutrition services department estimated that $1.2 million worth of prepared food was lifted from cafeterias in the past school year.

Board members decided last month that they could no longer swallow such losses, given a $150 million school budget shortfall and rising food prices. They approved a one-year tryout for cafeteria cameras at Annandale, Mount Vernon and Westfield high schools and Lake Braddock, Robinson and South County secondary schools.

Penny McConnell, director of food and nutrition services, said she hopes the cameras will curb theft and send a message to students that stealing from the cafeteria is no less serious than shoplifting from a store. "I would hate for them to make this a habit and take it into the community," she said. "They could get themselves into some serious situations that could impact their futures."

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