In this day of unfettered individual rights and endless litigation, administrators must walk a tight rope trying to balance school security and privacy issues. Incorporating surveillance technology into the mix may make some uneasy, but it is a legitimate tool to protect students and property if used judiciously.
Cameras and recorders are being used appropriately within and around some Utah high schools, in school parking lots and on buses. They are not used in rest rooms or other places that would cause embarrassment or violations of privacy, nor should they be. The only people uncomfortable with the practice would be those interested in harming persons or property and wanting to get away with it. Fortunately, the unmonitored places where that may be accomplished in and around Utah's schools are shrinking.Salt Lake City is leading the way in that effort, having installed $218,000 worth of video surveillance cameras and recorders this past summer at East, West and Highland high schools and an alternative high school, Horizonte Instruction and Training Center. The cameras are an appropriate and relatively inexpensive way - over time - to monitor entrances, hallways, some classrooms and computer labs, libraries and outside areas. They provide a measure of safety for staff and students who come and go under their ever-present eye, and they discourage vandalism. In parking lots, they are used at many more high schools to reduce fights, gang activity and intrusion by non-students.
Cameras and recorders work because there is no disputing the evidence they record. In Texas, for example, a school-bus security camera recently recorded middle-school boys groping girls and engaging in other offensive behavior. The video also showed kids throwing rocks and engaging in other out-of-control actions as the driver inexplicably did nothing.
When charges arose, the offenders adamantly denied wrongdoing - until they were forced to sit down and watch the videotape with their parents. Their misdeeds were plainly evident, and suspensions rightfully accorded.
Surveillance cameras and recorders are a wise investment. Their cost is partially offset by reduced expenses for insurance and damages, fiscal benefits that will accrue in greater amounts over time. More school districts throughout the state should use them. They are becoming commonplace in many institutions, an unfortunate sign of insecure times. But there is no disputing that they work well. Unlike wrongdoers, candid cameras do not lie.