Using video surveillance on college campuses

Answers to common questions about putting digital eyes on campus


"We try to use surveillance in a manner that deters crime and makes people feel safe on our campuses," says Richard Gregory, district director of public safety at NHMCCD. "It provides us added eyes to detect crime and a deterrent to improper behavior."

Gregory believes surveillance is a great assistance to ensuring public safety. Although he says people seem less concerned about their privacy in public areas, the college district still considers privacy issues as it deploys cameras on campus.

Who pays for the security system within a college campus--is it university funded or shared by different departments?

Security projects are traditionally funded through the campus's public safety budget, says Chris Johnston, product marketing manager at New York-based Bosch Security Systems. This is driven in part by new construction, where funding might come from the initial capital costs of the facility. Funding for this purpose often opens up the institution to grants from entities such as the Department of Justice.

"Today, as security systems become part of a university's technology infrastructure, tapping into the overall IT budget can also help to defray costs," Johnston relates.

Irvine Valley College, a community college located in southern California with 11,000 students, is starting the process of building a complete video security IP-based system on its Cisco network. This entails getting quotes, addressing potential issues, and gathering campus input on the topic.

"We want to work together with the campus constituents to address items such as placement, liability, resource monitoring (people), expectations, long-term and short-term costs relating to support and maintenance, and cost-benefit analysis, to name a few," says Tran Hong, director of technology at Irvine.

How many video cameras do we need? Where should they be placed?

American University uses crime stats and student-staff surveys to determine where to place cameras. Basically, more cameras are needed in a building or parking garage than in an open area. McNair says many students report feeling safer in areas patrolled by cameras.

McNair says his campus uses fixed cameras in places where they need to watch a specific area. Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras are deployed in open spaces to reduce the number of cameras needed.

Captain Beth Simonds at the University of Richmond (Va.) Police Department believes wireless cameras should be installed in high crime areas and high traffic areas. She also suggests placing cameras in areas with valuable items in order to prevent additional crimes and to provide evidence of crimes that have been committed.

"Camera placement by all entryways can be very beneficial, as well as in locations that will provide police with a 'full face' image of a suspect," Simonds says. "Whether the surveillance cameras are intended to be seen or to be covert should also be considered."

Bosch's Johnston says the number of cameras needed depends on the goals of the surveillance program itself. Is security most worried about the few, isolated areas of campus that have been the scenes of previous incidents?

Systems integrators can help universities design video surveillance systems, Johnston relates, but they need input from all stakeholders. This communication and defining of requirements will help integrators have a full understanding of the ultimate goals of the system.

"In most cases, if these items are considered, integrators will be better able to design a system that can scale as the university grows or seeks to expand the capabilities of the system," Johnston says.

What can be done to ensure that students, faculty, and staff members don't prop open doors or lend out card keys?

Lending out cards is not a serious problem at American University, McNair states, since students' building access card is also their ID card and meal card. Frankly, the bigger problem is students "tailgating" behind those entering with cards.

"Students are reluctant to challenge people in front or behind them who are entering buildings without authorization," McNair says. "It is believed this is the method that most unaffiliated individuals get into buildings to commit crimes. Most students do not give their ID cards to strangers but would let strangers walk into the building behind them without challenge."