With the increasing violence in Utah schools, evidenced by a rash of recent shootings and stabbings, administrators are casting about for ways to stem the tide.

Northridge High School Principal Ross Poore says he's found one.Poore is seeking approval from the Davis Board of Education for a $14,000 camera system that would monitor and videotape activity in the school's parking lot and commons area.

"Frankly, I'd rather be safe than sorry," he said. "It's a different situation - a different world now."

Poore has proposed the cameras primarily to prevent vandalism, which has been a big problem at Northridge lately. His own car and several others have been "keyed" and a number of car stereos have been stolen. "Keying" a car comprises running a key along the side of it, creating a deep scratch.

If the bad guys knew they were being watched, Poore said, they would think twice before acting.

"The camera becomes a deterrent," he said. "People tend to be on their best behavior with a camera around."

Poore added that most problems in the parking lot and commons apparently come from non-students who intrude on the Northridge campus.

Though cameras have occasionally been used in Utah public schools, "it's been really limited," said Douglas Bates, coordinator of school law and legislation in the state office of education.

Davis board member Dixie Hill noted, however, that schools in other states, such as those in Topeka, Kan., use them widely.

"Their schools are all equipped, everywhere," she said.

Even though school board Chairman Dan Eastman said he thinks the proposal is appropriate, he doesn't think much of what it says about society today.

"I feel bad about ," he said, "that we can't just say, `Kids, behave yourselves.' " He added that he's regretfully considering a similar camera system to prevent vandalism in his Bountiful car dealership.

As currently proposed, Northridge's parking lot would have two cameras and the commons area would have one. The police officer assigned to the school would have a TV monitor in his office, and another monitor would be in the main office. A 24-hour tape record would be kept.

The cameras would be sophisticated enough to record such details as car license plate numbers.

Layton Police Chief Doyle Talbot said he supports the measure.

"The end result for us is that if there is a problem, you can go to it very quickly, take care of it very quickly," he said. Glancing at David Doty, the district's compliance officer and a lawyer, he added, "One good videotape - pardon me, Dave - is worth a lot of attorneys."

Speaking of attorneys, there doesn't appear to be any legal or constitutional problem with the cameras.

"They are really just the equivalent of a human being," said Brian Barnard, an outspoken civil liberties attorney. "There would really be nothing intrusive as to offend the constitution with a human being standing there . . . Any conduct going on in the public that's observable" is OK to monitor.

Poore said he has discussed the privacy implications of the cameras with students, particularly Northridge's student body officers, who told him the cameras would be fine.

"I'd rather have Big Brother than no brother," he said.