WU considers surveillance cameras
After much debate, the Student Union Senate on Wednesday passed a resolution supporting the implementation of closed-circuit television cameras on the University’s campus.
While SU’s resolution technically establishes the student body’s endorsement of closed-circuit television (CCTV) use on campus, it does not ensure a definite future presence of this technology, or even a specific plan for its incorporation.
First developed for bank security, CCTV technology involves a network of video surveillance cameras directly connected via cables.
Throughout the past school year, University Chief of Police Don Strom has been engaged in various discussions regarding the implementation of CCTV, which he described as the, “logical next step in the use of technology on campus to enhance other policing efforts for safety and security.”
Since the considerations of CCTV are not triggered by any one incident, Strom pointed out that, “it allows us to be more thoughtful in our discussion and not be in a panic mode as we proceed.”
Serious discussions regarding this topic began last fall, when Strom met with Chancellor Wrighton and decided it was the right time to begin engaging others in the dialogue.
Over the past few months, Strom has been speaking with various faculty and staff groups on campus, including the Faculty Senate Council, the Residential Advisory Board for the South 40 and the University Safety and Security Committee, concerning the viability of using CCTV.
“What we’ve been trying to do is get a sense from people if they agree that it seems like a logical progression,” said Strom.
During the six years that Strom has been the University’s chief of police, he has constantly received questions from students and parents alike as to why video cameras are not yet present on campus.
A week after the resolution was presented to the Student Union Senate on March 22, the Senate voted to pass it.
Most senators felt that security cameras would add the needed level of comfort on campus.
The next step in the process will be the development of a comprehensive policy to guide the use of the cameras and an oversight committee that would be responsible for reviewing proposed sites for the cameras.
Strom emphasized the fact that this oversight group will be responsible for making sure that the use of CCTV does not infringe on people’s personal privacy.
While he has noted broad consensus regarding the use of security cameras in places like parking garages and parking lots, he is aware that, “nobody wants to see somebody putting cameras in private space and things like that.”
“We’re not going to invade any reasonable expectation of privacy that people have,” said Strom.
But four SU senators, who voted against the resolution, were not so convinced.
One of those four senators, sophomore Mark Sobin, said, “I feel extremely safe on the campus – this is probably the safest place in St. Louis – so to me getting security cameras makes me feel more uncomfortable.”
Sobin felt especially uneasy about the fact that Don Strom allegedly mentioned that these cameras could be put outside of dorms and in high-traffic public areas.
“It seems like a huge step against people’s personal freedom, not just the next level of technology,” said Sobin.
With respect to these concerns, Strom noted that CCTV cameras are used extensively in public places off campus that people visit everyday.
“We have surveyed a number of our peer institutions and almost universally they are using CCTV in some capacity on their campus,” added Strom.
Although he cannot predict the future decisions and actions of the oversight committee, Strom speculates that the cameras will be used to deter crime and to assist in the investigation of criminal incidents.
“I don’t think anybody’s really looking at this as some big tool for judicial violations,” said Strom.
To ensure that the cameras would not be able to be used for other purposes, such as evaluating employees, Strom emphasized the importance of adopting principles that state the appropriate uses for the cameras.
Such policies would ensure that any material that falls outside of the specified purposes may not be used in any capacity later on.
“You have to define the boundaries of it for the system to have credibility,” said Strom.
Once the oversight committee is formed and the policy is created, Strom speculates that the next step will be pilot programs that will test the technology, perhaps in parking lots around campus or on Greenway walkway, the route that many students take from campus to their apartments north of campus.
But since Strom can’t predict the manner in which the discussions will progress, the future use of CCTV on campus remains tentative and unclear.
“I’m convinced that the University will act in terms of what’s in the best interest of the community at large,” said Strom.
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