AUBURN – Smile, you’re on EL camera, or you may be soon.

The School Committee gave preliminary approval Wednesday night to a security policy that will allow 32 surveillance cameras inside and outside of Edward Little High School.

Security cameras at high schools is a growing trend in Maine, said Assistant Principal Rob Bennett. Other schools, including Lewiston, Lisbon and Gray-New Gloucester, have cameras, he said.

Saying vandalism and crime is on the rise at Edward Little, both Bennett and EL Principal Jim Miller asked for the cameras.

Surveillance cameras would improve safety by deterring crime. When a crime does happen, surveillance tapes could help solve it, they said.

In the past school year:

• Equipment valued at thousands of dollars has been stolen.

• Teachers’ and students’ purses and wallets have been stolen, so have students’ MP3 players, iPods, and Palm Pilots.

• Vandals have broken doors, windows, file cabinets.

• “And 38 live rats were released in the building,” Bennett said. They know 38 rats were released “because we captured 38,” Bennett said.

• Additionally, officials have had to deal with student fights and false fire alarms.

Several school committee members expressed reservations about cameras, saying they wanted to ensure privacy rights of students.

The principal countered saying violence and crime is escalating. The time has come for surveillance cameras.

“We’ve had incidents with guns. We’ve had incidents with knives. We’ve had incidents of kids getting beaten up. It’s increasing,” Miller said.

Cameras would not be placed in places where privacy would be invaded, such as bathrooms, assured Assistant Superintendent Tom Morrill. Signs on the premises would notify the public that cameras are in use. There would be no audio recordings, just visual, Morrill said.

When necessary, school officials could install covert cameras to solve a problem, such as a string of thefts. According to the proposed security policy, hidden cameras could only be used after written permission is granted by the school superintendent. That information would then be shared with school committee members.

School committee member Robert Baskett asked for more oversight of hidden cameras. Baskett wanted more than one person deciding on the use of hidden cameras.

Committee member Ross Leavitt said the cameras are a good idea. Leavitt said he has a concern “that Big Brother watches over my shoulder too much,” but in today’s society most people go somewhere everyday where cameras are used, such as the mall or 7-Eleven.

Edward Little senior Carin Eisenstein, who serves on the committee, said some EL students were initially apprehensive about cameras in their school. After the policy was explained, most favored cameras saying they’d feel safer, she said.

When cameras are installed at Edward Little depends on when the committee gives final approval. The cameras would be paid for with a $51,000 federal grant, and won’t cost taxpayers, Bennett said.