Candid Camera

Video surveillance deters students' bad behaviors

In Weber County, nestled next to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, the local school district is home to 50 public schools, which are attended by almost 21,000 students and employ 1,368 full-time teachers. Nearly 850 students attend Sand Ridge Junior High School in Roy, Utah, and with 34 teachers, the teacher to student ratio is about 25:1.

Kids will be kids, and Sand Ridge Junior High School faces typical school problems, including vandalism, theft and physical altercations. When these types of issues arise, the biggest challenge for school administration is determining who was involved and what exactly happened.

Who Has the Truth

With these situations, more often than not, it's a "he said/she said" argument. Usually, the administration's biggest problem is locating an unbiased witness to each incident. Many schools are turning to video surveillance systems in an attempt to capture wrongdoing on camera and eliminate doubt about the facts.

"It used to be that our teachers and administrators would go to a Sam's Club or Costco and purchase a video surveillance system that was designed for residential use," said Principal Jeff Marchant. "They'd come to the school and try to install it and inevitably run into problems. Once they hit a snag, they'd call the technology teachers and ask for their assistance.

"The district technology department could fix the problems, but they started to complain because so much of their time was being spent providing tech support for these residential video surveillance systems."

The Right Solution

Marchant worked with his school district to identify video surveillance vendors that provided the types of system the school would require.

"As I did my research and met with each vendor, what caught my eye initially was the amazing clarity that the Advent Systems product provided," Marchant said. "It was the best quality, and it also would allow us to burn the video onto a CD and copy data digitally."

Advent Systems manufactures digital video surveillance technology for the security and surveillance industry. Its systems can support up to 64 cameras while still recording at 30 frames per second for all 64 channels. The system records in DVD quality and can store as much as 30 days of video for all channels.

In addition to the speed, quality, expandability and storage, Advent has a feature called Smart Search All that eliminates searching through video recording to find a particular person who was last seen in an area where an incident took place.

Other compelling attributes include the ability to add cameras dynamically to the system, watermark video files and remotely access the system.

Results Speak for Themselves

"As far as video surveillance was concerned, we looked at it as a proactive way to prevent misbehavior," Marchant said. "We know kids will do inappropriate things, such as drugs, fights, vandalism and theft, but what we've found is that with these security cameras in place force students to be more conscious of their activities and, as such, these problem issues have decreased dramatically.

Marchant said after the cameras were installed, a student complained that the cameras made the school feel like a prison and that her privacy was compromised. Later that day, the same student was in his office to report that her $100 pair of cheerleading shoes had been stolen.

"I was able to log on and review the video of where her shoes were last seen and see exactly who had taken her shoes," he said. "At that point, I turned to her and asked how she felt about the cameras now. She just gave me the typical teenager look and walked away."

Marchant also enjoys that having the cameras acts as deterrent. "Our school is right between the local high school and a city park," he said. "One night some vandals were painting graffiti on buildings. They got the high school next door, which has no video surveillance cameras, and then passed our school and hit the city park. They didn't dare touch our school because they were aware of the video surveillance system and didn't want to be recorded."

School officials soon learned that students were able to identify where the cameras are and, more importantly, where they aren't. Often, students will sneak to these open zones to conduct and participate in inappropriate behaviors.

"Our challenge is to move the cameras around and reposition them on a regular basis to keep the students honest," Marchant said. "What's been nice from a customer support perspective is that Advent has been helpful in guiding us on best practices. They'll come out on a regular basis and identify problems. They come up with solutions to eliminate these challenges and make it harder for the students to find or detect open zones."

Marchant's plan is to slowly add new cameras every year until 100 cameras are installed.

About the Author

Doug Reed is the president and CEO of Advent Systems.

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