UGA surveillance cameras to focus on fans in stadium

ATHENS, Ga. - Think twice about taking a swing at that obnoxious Tennessee fan in Sanford Stadium next football season.

And if you must do it anyway, smile - police may be taking your picture.

The University of Georgia hopes to install a high-tech video surveillance system by next season in 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium, the fifth-largest campus football stadium in the country.

UGa has been awarded a federal Homeland Security grant of about $236,000 for the camera system, which will allow police to see and record what happens in almost any corner of the stadium, said UGa police Chief Jimmy Williamson.

A similar camera system was temporarily installed in the stadium during the 1996 Summer Olympics, when the Sanford Stadium hedges were removed for the Olympics' largest competition, soccer. Williamson said.

Installing security cameras in Sanford Stadium was one of the recommendations of an emergency preparedness and communications committee that UGa President Michael Adams appointed after a student at Virginia Tech University went on a rampage last April, killing 32 people and himself.

UGa already was trying to secure grant money for the surveillance system even before the committee began work, however, Williamson said.

The final cost has not been determined, and UGa administrators have not said how additional costs will be paid beyond the grant amount, Williamson said.

The committee estimated the cost of the Sanford cameras at about $500,000. About half could be paid by the UGa Athletic Association and the rest with grant money, the committee estimated.

The cameras and recording systems planned for Sanford won't produce the kind of fuzzy images typical of bank and convenience store cameras.

The system will allow a police worker to scan the entire stadium seating area as well as areas outside the stadium for trouble.

Officers who respond to some fast-moving crime scene, such as a fight between fans, will be able to know what's going on before they get there, Williamson said.

Often, officers can't see what's happening when they respond to a fight, heart attack or other incident because people are standing around the scene, obscuring their view, said Maj. Tony Dunn of the University of Florida Police Department, which already uses a high-tech camera system in its Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Lenses in the cameras are powerful enough for officers in a security booth to see what's actually happening and where, Dunn said.

The cameras also can zoom in on individual faces, Williamson said.