Security and Crime News
Surveillance Cameras On Brown University Campus Triple
11/9/05 - Surveillance cameras on campus, such as those in the Power Street parking garage, at the entrance of the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center and inside the entrance of Health Services. have tripled in number in the past five years.
The cameras - many of them housed in black, hemispherical shells - are sprinkled around campus in locations such as Faunce House, the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, the Center for Information Technology, Health Services and in and around the Power Street parking garage.
The increase at Brown is typical of higher education institutions - one security consultant said cameras are currently the number one security item for colleges and universities. In recent years, as the technology of camera systems has improved and prices have dropped, institutions have widely increased camera usage, according to several security professionals.
At Brown, individual departments make decisions about whether they want cameras in or on the buildings they manage, according to the Department of Public Safety, but there has apparently been no public discussion about the threefold jump in cameras. DPS would not release the University's full policy on cameras, a list of camera locations or information on how long the digital footage they record is archived.
The cost of the additional cameras was not immediately available, though a DPS official said that the cameras have "absolutely" been worth their cost.
In a 2003 article, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Brown's campus had 60 cameras in 2000 and 105 in 2003. That number is 180 today, with slightly more cameras outdoors than indoors, according to David Cardoza, technical and support systems manager for DPS.
Though DPS would not release the University's full policy on the surveillance camera system - also called a closed circuit television system - an excerpt of the policy states: "The University's CCTV system will be used as a resource to detect, prevent, and record activity that violates University regulations and state or federal laws."
Cardoza said DPS does not monitor feeds from the cameras - which would require a huge commitment of manpower - "unless we have an incident that's been heard of minutes before."
"The goal of our system is digital recording for retrieval," he said.
The cameras are also used as a "patrol tool." For example, if there were a report of suspicious activity at the ATMs in the Brown Office Building, DPS would assess the situation using the cameras in the area before dispatching officers, Cardoza said.
Cardoza said the cameras are in high-traffic areas and "places where we've had past instances of crime or we've had problems in the past."
"We're somewhat reactive in how we do it," he said. Cardoza cited parking garages, ATMs and card value centers as locations commonly monitored by cameras.
Cardoza said none of the cameras are "covert" and "they are not meant to be deceptive in any way," but he would not release a list of locations for feat that the information would aid criminals.
"There are people that are constantly testing the fences," Cardoza said.
"We're operating in a post-9/11 environment," said Michelle Nuey, manager of special services at DPS, also present at the interview.
According to Cardoza, the shiny black "dome" camera casings better protect against weather and vandalism and "my assumption would be that when people see those, they know what they are."
The network of cameras can be monitored on closed circuit television at DPS' Communication and Information Center in Faunce Arch and at DPS headquarters at 75 Charlesfield St. Cardoza said the screens in those two locations are often kept turned to parking areas around campus, which have been "hot spots."
Policies and procedures
Individual departments, which manage buildings on campus, decide whether they have a need for cameras, Cardoza said. If a department decides that it does, the department is partnered with a Facilities Management project manager who helps arrange a walk-through with the Univer-sity's camera vendor. If the department accepts the vendor's price quote, it is responsible for funding cameras, but the University requires that they be tied into the campus-wide system, Cardoza said. He said individual departments are often motivated to install cameras by concerns about vandalism, theft and "basic bodily protection."
It is not entirely clear who makes decisions about camera placement in areas with no obvious building manager, such as the Power Street parking garage. Cardoza said that in such cases, "It still comes down to a vice president somewhere."
Cardoza said that to his knowledge there has not been public discussion of the increase in cameras "because (decisions are) left up to individual departments."
There are no legal guidelines governing the University's cameras because they are in public spaces, according to Cardoza. However, the excerpt of the University's camera policy provided by DPS states that any use of the system besides detecting, preventing and recording activity that violates University regulation or law "is prohibited, and violators face serious disciplinary action."
"Camera operators are prohibited from using the system's cameras to monitor an individual's movements unless he/she is acting in a suspicious manner, may be involved in an unlawful activity, or has been reported to be involved in an unlawful activity," the policy states.
The policy was drawn up in 2000, the year DPS unified the University's then-fragmented VCR-based system of cameras into one digital system, according to Cardoza. He said DPS researched the guidelines of law enforcement accreditation groups as well as other schools in forming the policy.
All the digital footage captured by the camera network is stored in quickly accessible form in hard drives for "a couple of months to a number of months," said Cardoza, who noted that DPS investigations can go on for many months. After that time, the digital footage is transferred from the on-campus hard drives to a long-term, off-campus storage site, which is managed by a professional archiving service, according to Cardoza. He would not disclose how long the footage is kept, though he said it is not permanently.
As for the cameras' usefulness in investigations, Cardoza would cite only one incident. In late September, a camera in Faunce was used to identify a Hope High School student who had thrown a soft drink inside the building. Hope High administrators subsequently suspended the student.
"Our hope is that the word (gets) around about that" and that it has a deterrent effect, Cardoza said.
He likened the frequency of DPS' use of the cameras to police work in general, which he described as "long periods of sheer boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer panic."
Cost and value
The 180 cameras on campus vary widely with respect to resolution, frame rate and whether they capture color, according to Cardoza. The majority of the University's cameras are fixed, but some, especially in large parking lots, are "pan-tilt-zoom" models, which can be controlled remotely and are many degrees more expensive than fixed models, he said.
Cardoza said there is no readily available figure for the overall cost of the University's CCTV system. However, he believes the 2000 project to incorporate the University's cameras into a single digital system cost $330,000.
Asked whether the cameras were worth their cost, Cardoza said, "Absolutely, no doubt at all."
"When you're getting into the investigative side, you couldn't have enough cameras," he said. "It's been shown that video technology, especially in the course of an investigation, can really be a clincher on really solid evidence."
Cardoza added that the CCTV system "has a terrific deterrent value, but as far as actually correlating with hard figures, it's hard to measure."
As director of student activities, Ricky Gresh heads the office that manages Faunce. Gresh told The Herald that in 2004, before he joined the University, the decision was made to add more cameras in preparation for Faunce's new 24-hour schedule.
He said the recent identification of the Hope High student "is the only incident that I'm specifically aware of" in which the cameras were used in Faunce, but "they do have a deterrent effect as well."
Over 10 cameras are visible in Faunce.
Gresh said the Student Activities Office has talked with DPS about improving security strategies because of recurring problems with Hope High students and DPS "recommended that we increase the quality of the cameras." The SAO is still evaluating the recommendation, but "there isn't information at this point that the current cameras aren't working (sufficiently)," Gresh said.
'No one talks about this anymore'
One university security consultant said the expansion of Brown's surveillance system was in fact quite modest compared to some universities.
"Your school, because it's a liberal school, usually is ... conservative in the numbers (of cameras) it's putting up, despite the needs," said Adam Thermos, who was a designer of Brown's campus access system in the 1990s.
Thermos, founder of the Strategic Technology Group in Milford, Mass., said he advised Brown in the 1990s to install cameras at the entrances of all dorms, but the idea was not well received.
Many schools are currently expanding their camera networks, Thermos said.
"In the old days, in the '70s and '80s, there was a lot of discussion about privacy rights and intrusion - this is old stuff, no one talks about this anymore," he said. A system of cameras "has nothing to do with 'surveillance,' it has to do with recording activity" for criminal investigations and crime prevention purposes, he added.
Don Gobin, assistant manager for operations support at DPS, said that when he arrived at Brown in 1989, there were "very few" cameras on campus.
Andrew Kurtzman '08, president of Brown's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Herald the increase in surveillance cameras on campus was not on his group's radar.
"I don't have a gut reaction that this is horrible" because "it's the University protecting private property and private interests," he said. But Kurtzman said he would take issue with the cameras if there were specific examples of privacy rights violations.
The national ACLU has been critical of the increasing pervasiveness of video surveillance in American society - on privacy and other grounds. The group has also questioned "unexamined assumptions that cameras provide security," according to an ACLU report.
National guidelines in the works
The use of surveillance cameras is on the rise on campuses nationwide, according to Steven Healy, president-elect of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and director of public safety at Princeton University.
Healy said he did not know of any statistics on the use of cameras by colleges and universities, but that, anecdotally, the issue is a "hot topic" on IACLEA's listserv. Campus law enforcement officials on the listserv are asking about everything from use policies and privacy issues to manufacturers and costs.
The burgeoning use of cameras can be attributed in part to the "advancements in technology and the corresponding reduction in cost of systems," Healy said.
"Obviously the post 9/11 environment - the new threat that we live under - is an impetus as well," Healy said.
IACLEA has just appointed a task force charged with developing standards for camera surveillance on college campuses, Healy said. The task force was formed "just because there is so much interest" and so that each school looking to install a system does not "have to go out and reinvent the wheel," he said. "There are so many colleges and universities either currently implementing or looking to implement (camera systems)."
Healy expects the task force to produce a set of standards by late spring 2006. IACLEA's membership represents more than 1,000 colleges and universities in 20 countries, according to its Web site.
As for surveillance cameras' effectiveness, Healy said "it's difficult to measure non-events, so you never know if a camera has been helpful stopping someone from doing something." He said that Princeton's cameras - which number fewer than 100 - have generally not been used for crime solving.
"It also gives you eyes that you don't usually have," he said.
Cameras are particularly useful for quickly surveying an area where an alarm has gone off and assessing whether an officer needs to be dispatched, Healy said.
Healy said that policies and guidelines for use of cameras vary from campus to campus. He cited the extensive camera system at the University of Pennsylvania, where the placement of each camera gets reviewed by a campus-wide committee.
"Again, every campus is different, so every campus should consider consulting a wide group of constituents" about surveillance systems, he said.
The Penn public safety Web site has a list of all of the university's outside surveillance cameras.
© J. R. Roberts, Security Strategies