Newly installed Viviotek surveillance cameras are keeping a high-resolution eye on students in the Longview School District, thanks to a levy voters approved in 2009 and a matching federal grant.
"The cameras give us the ability to assist and ensure the safety of our staff and students," said R.A. Long High School assistant principal Ty Morris. "The cameras alone can be a deterrent for a student performing an inappropriate act, and if something inappropriate does happen the cameras will capture it."
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., helped the Longview Police Department secure the $166,000 grant for the school district from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. The levy brought in an additional $166,000.
Before the purchase, R.A. Long and the elementary schools had no surveillance cameras, and Mark Morris had 15 outdated — and in some cases inoperable — cameras, said district spokeswoman Sandy Catt.
The grant did not pay for the cameras at the middle schools, which were installed during recent remodeling projects, she said.
Many high school students say they feel safer knowing about the cameras, which began operating in January. Other students said the large number of cameras — 21 at R.A. Long and 25 at Mark Morris High School — allow students little privacy.
"I think they're good because they catch people who aren't doing what's right," said Alicia Luster, 15, a freshman at Mark Morris. "I like it because you always know who's protecting you."
"The cameras are probably mostly affecting the students doing inappropriate things," R.A. Long senior Mackenzie Fine said. She said the cameras don't affect her personally, or any of her friends. "Unless you're guilty of performing an inappropriate act, students shouldn't be bothered by the cameras at all."
Longview police administrative manager Mary Chennault, who maintains statistics for the police department, said there isn't enough data yet to determine what effect the cameras have had on campus crime or school discipline.
However, Catt is encouraged by anecdotal reports.
"School administrators have been extremely positive," she said. "They have been able to do some preventive interventions when they saw students almost scheming to misbehave."
R.A. Long senior Alison Kolberg predicted that negative behavior would decline.
"Many students agree that the cameras are a good thing for this school," she said.
But Mark Morris freshman Cole Brady, 14, said students might feel uncomfortable taking personal items out of a locker if they were being recorded.
"I think it's OK to have (cameras) to a certain extent," he said. "But I think it is kind of a lack of privacy."
"It's a bit too much," said Mark Morris junior Blake Wellenkamp, 17. But he supports the idea of having cameras in parking lots to deter vehicle prowlers and vandals.
Catt said she has not heard any concerns about privacy.
"On the contrary, one concern expressed to me is there weren't MORE cameras available," she said.
Safety planners, including the police department, school staff and 911 emergency responders, helped decide the camera placement with primary emphasis on the safety of students and staff, Catt said. Secondary emphasis went to property security, she said.
At the elementary schools, cameras are aimed at the main door, student pickup and bus loading areas. There are two to four cameras at each elementary school, depending on the layout of the school, she said.
More cameras are at the high schools because there are more building entrances, she said.
"Priorities were areas with high student traffic, gathering areas, large congregation areas, areas of reported incidents and isolated areas," she said.
The cameras are set up only in public locations where any staff member would be able to see students, and not in private areas such as bathrooms, she said.
She said no one is assigned to monitor the cameras, but if an incident occurs in a particular area, a school principal will be able to review the recorded footage.
The police department also still has two officers assigned to Longview schools, Chennault said.
Fresh Ink correspondent Joe Buckley of R.A. Long High School contributed to this report.