School Tackles Vandalism, Improves Security with Video Surveillance

A few years ago, Collin Dimick - assistant supervisor of maintenance for an urban school district in Utah - was sandblasting expansive graffiti from the exterior of one of the district's elementary schools. The principal's name, as well as his, was part of the graffiti text.

This incident - just the latest in a series of vandalism acts to hit the schools - was the final straw that led the district to get serious about video surveillance.

"Ever since 9/11 and Columbine, schools have become more security-conscious," says Dimick, who adds that many schools in the area now have video-surveillance systems in place. In the past four years, Dimick has helped install some 80 cameras and other surveillance equipment at two of the district's elementary schools, two junior highs and one high school. He bought all the surveillance gear directly from video-security vendor Supercircuits.

"We don't have big security issues at our schools, but we do deal with vandalism, theft and behavioral issues," Dimick explains.

Most of the school district's surveillance systems are overt, meaning that students can see the cameras in the hallways, lunchrooms, entrances and exits and just outside the buildings. The video is transmitted via wireless antennas to monitoring stations at each school, where school officials can watch live feeds and a DVR records the footage.

The DVRs — each of which can connect to 16 cameras — offer sophisticated features like CD burning and Internet networking. "We can burn a copy of the video onto a CD, hand it to the police and let them take the evidence to court. Another neat feature is that I can monitor live feeds from anywhere over the Internet. Say I get a call at home telling me there's a suspected break-in at the school. Well, I can get on the Internet, type in the IP address of the DVR and switch to different live camera feeds until I spot the burglar and let the police know where he is."

Since the cameras went up at several district schools, there have been no cases of graffiti or vandalism, reports Dimick. "When students know they're being watched, it serves as a deterrent." The cameras have also caught fights breaking out, giving school officials a good idea of who started the incidents. And cameras recorded a school-district employee stealing merchandise from the maintenance department. The employee was fired.

Video surveillance also comes in handy for dealing with parents about student behavioral issues, says Dimick. "The students can deny what they're doing, and the parents can deny it, but when we show them video, they tend to step back."

Sometimes, covert surveillance systems are the only way to catch perpetrators in the act. Dimick recently ordered a boom box with a hidden micro camera from Supercircuits. "We've had a problem with theft in one of our classrooms, and we needed a mobile surveillance system that wouldn't catch any attention. The boom box is fully functional — it plays CDs and radio — so no one knows what it is except the teacher. Once we solve this problem, we will be able to move the boom box around to different trouble spots on different campuses."

The school district has been buying surveillance equipment from Supercircuits for years. "I wouldn't use anybody else," says Dimick.

Why Supercircuits? Pricing is competitive, he says, and his sales consultant is knowledgeable. "He knows our schools and can recommend just the right system that meets our needs."

Dimick says Supercircuits gear is "plug and play, easy to operate," so he hasn't had to rely on Supercircuits' lifetime technical support.

Customer service is also important to Dimick. "Supercircuits stands behind its products. If we have a problem, we can send the equipment back and have them look at it. Sometimes, they just send out replacements, no questions asked. And they've honored warranties a time or two that were a few days beyond expiration. You don't find that with many companies."

Dimick says he recommends Supercircuits to officials at other school districts, some of whom have visited his district's schools to check out their advanced security systems. "A lot of times they leaving saying, 'Wow, I didn't know we could do that.' "

Dimick is so sold on Supercircuits that he's purchased systems for personal use. "I have a Supercircuits system at home — that's how much I love them."