OGDEN -- Last week, two students at Mount Ogden Junior High School got into a fight, and Principal Trevor Wilson heard about 20 versions of how it got started.
How did Wilson learn the truth? He turned to video footage of the event and knew exactly who started it.
That's why he and other principals in the Ogden and Weber school districts are thrilled with partnerships with local law enforcement agencies that provide money for even more cameras. The objective is to make school environments safer and deter issues as well.
The Ogden Police Department recently received a grant from the federal government for $78,567, which it will allocate to the Ogden City School District for campus cameras. The district already has cameras installed in schools from another law enforcement grant about two years ago.
Weber School District also received a similar grant through the Weber County Sheriff's Office.
"It's a great opportunity for law enforcement to partner with local schools," said Ogden Assistant Police Chief Wayne Tarwater.
Tarwater said the grant is not limited to video cameras and can be used for other crime-deterrent measures, but video cameras are used the most right now.
"They provide school safety," Tarwater said. One of the goals as technology increases is to have all the systems linked to the law enforcement agencies so they can be watched from off-campus locations.
"We could pull up the cameras at any given school. I'm not saying we can do that at this time, but it's something we're looking at down the road," Tarwater said.
Tarwater worked with Kate Bideaux, grant specialist for the Ogden district, to secure the grants. When the first grant was awarded several years ago, the district did an overall needs assessment to see which schools had the greatest need. Now the district is going through that process again.
The money comes in a matching grant, meaning the district has to raise $78,000 to receive the grant. It has until August 2011 to do so. Bideaux has been working with schools to find ways to get that matching money.
Schools such as Dee Elementary and Washington High School are high on the list for cameras.
"Dee actually came to us and asked us to apply for another grant," Bideaux said. "We have to have a commitment from the principals that they are willing to do it and take it out of the budgets."
Wilson has worked closely with his Parent Teacher Association to obtain extra funds. He currently has five cameras but would like 10 more because they are an effective deterrent to crime and fighting, as well as serving as an investigative tool when incidents do occur.
"The students know those cameras are there," Wilson said. "The cameras are an absolute slam-dunk, because it is very clear how things unfold."
He can show parents incidents that have occurred with students and there is proof of who started it, he said.
Most of his cameras are inside the building because the outside is very well-lighted.
Bideaux said Ben Lomond and Ogden high schools are getting full camera systems as part of their reconstruction/renovation through bond money. Now the district is focusing on adding cameras to the junior highs and elementaries.
Art Hansen, principal of Bonneville High School in the Weber district, said that's also the focus of the newest grant his district has received.
Polk Elementary Principal Jeanne Clifton was one of the first elementary school principals to request cameras for her school, both inside and outside.
"I felt there was a safety issue in some areas," Clifton said. Gang tagging in late hours on the outside of the school was a big problem, but "once we got the cameras, we had no graffiti for two years," she said.
Graffiti was found recently because some lights burned out, but that problem is being corrected, she said.
Bideaux said incidents of fighting and crime throughout the district have been drastically reduced since video cameras have been installed.
Principals admit they can't monitor the cameras at all times, but they can check them periodically through the day.
"The biggest thing we use them for is to investigate incidents," said Ben Lomond Principal Ben Smith. He has been very pleased with the decrease in incidents since the cameras have gone up. More cameras are being installed throughout the school as more remodeling work is done. Smith doesn't post signs indicating where the cameras are because he doesn't really want students to know.
Clifton doesn't either, but she said the students know they are around.
Wilson said major incidents at the school are rare, but there's peace of mind in knowing that if something does occur, he can be prepared to solve the problem.
All of the principals agree that student safety is a priority, and they're thankful for the cameras.