Cameras curb crime in dorms

Two years ago when McDonald Hall was renovated, surveillance cameras were installed to help reduce crime, false fire alarms and vandalism. Today there are 32 cameras throughout McDonald.

The cameras are in the hallways and common areas, as well as near the elevators.

According to Sergeant Timothy James of the campus police, the cameras were added because the University wanted to keep up with changing technology.

“It was time to move into the 21st century and put in some security cameras for everybody’s benefit,” James said. “Somebody was thinking ahead when they planned the renovation of McDonald, and they factored [adding video cameras] in with the original plans for the renovation.”

Cullen Jackson, graduate hall director for McDonald, said the cameras were installed in a two-part process, with east- and west-side surveillance added in 2003/04 and north-side surveillance added in 2004/05.

The cameras are intended to act as a source of evidence in prosecuting crime and are only monitored after the fact.

“They can be monitored live, but we don’t do that. We don’t have any reason to do that, but if we need to, we can go back and review [the footage] at a later time,” James said.

Still, not all students like the idea of being recorded, favoring privacy. Brian Truck, a junior, doesn’t think cameras are the right answer.

“I don’t know how much crime goes on in a common area – some drunk people go in there and pass out, big deal,” Truck said. “I think it’s a little extreme.”

But University Police Chief Jim Wiegand maintains that student privacy is very important to the University and for that reason, only members of the police department have access to the footage.

According to Wiegand, while there’s not a specific privacy policy for students regarding the surveillance cameras, there are internal guidelines in place to insure as much student privacy as possible.

“I won’t tell you [the cameras] are exclusively used for criminal activity, but they are mostly used for criminal activity,” Wiegand said.

So not everyone is convinced that an added policy would work better than the current internal guidelines. That includes Dr. Nick Hennessy, associate director of residence life.

“The guidelines are like a policy, helping us use the cameras in the way they were intended,” he said, adding that policies have never been the final way to ensure procedure is always followed.

“Everybody knows that we have plenty of problems even with policies in place,” Hennessy said. “I don’t think the creation of a policy necessarily eliminates all problems, nor is a policy always created in response to a problem.”

Wiegand doesn’t think that the cameras are in violation of anyone’s rights and that overall they’ve been a very effective tool against crime.

“I can’t give specific documentation, but I believe as a result of the cameras we’ve had less incidents in McDonald than prior to,” he said.

So far in McDonald, the cameras have helped solve several different theft cases, a couple of assaults, fights in the hallways and false fire alarm pulls.

James remembers one notable theft case that happened right before Christmas break.

“[A young woman had] left her room for just a second, and somebody came in and grabbed her laptop, which was just laying there. Then he took off.”

After reviewing the video, police saw the young man who did it and were able to catch the burglar and return the laptop.

Because of success stories like this, many people favor surveillance cameras.

Melissa Nowak, a resident advisor in Kohl Hall, would like to see security cameras expanded to include other dorms.

“Too much stuff happens behind the R.A.’s eyes or behind the hall director’s eyes and it seems like [cameras] would eliminate so many of the questions,” she said. “With surveillance you’ve got monitored time and there’s no questioning when something happened or how it happened because it’s right there.”

But students shouldn’t expect to see cameras in all the dorms in the near future. According to the office of residence life, cameras in all the dorms are a long way off because of the incredible cost.

However, the University is trying to pay for more cameras by applying for government grants, Hennessy said.

“We made a federal grant request fall semester through Senator [Mike] DeWine’s office which would be used for the purchase and installation of cameras in Kreischer and Harshman quads,” he said.

But for the time being, many students don’t mind the cameras as long as student safety is the goal.

“Really if you’re not doing anything wrong it doesn’t violate your privacy because it’s just in the hallway,” freshman Sarah Lynn said, adding that it would be different if they were in the bathrooms.

However, just because crime has lessened as a result of the cameras, James doesn’t want students, especially in McDonald, to get a false sense of security.

“They’re a great tool, but students still need to be vigilant,” he said. “They still need to lock their doors and remain secure.”

“Just because there are cameras present doesn’t mean it’s Shangri-La – there’s still things that happen,” he said.