Smile, you’re on ‘Campus Camera’

A new set of eyes will be watching when students enter and exit all dormitories at the University of Massachusetts this fall.

The installation of approximately 325 new security cameras, which will cover all 45 residence halls on campus, will be completed for the start of the semester, according to UMass Chancellor John Lombardi.

“Events from the past, the present, and those we anticipate in the future all indicate that university campuses are subject to the same kind of security issues as large residential populations in cities and towns across the nation,” said Lombardi. “Periodic events that result in loss of property or disturbances of one kind or another in residence halls remind us of our obligation to continue to improve our security systems.”

Cameras already exist in residence halls on campus, with the few exceptions being Brooks, Chadbourne, Crabtree, Greenough, Hamlin, Johnson, Knowlton, Leach, Thatcher, and Wheeler.

The planning of the new security measures began in 2000, when David Scott, the chancellor at the time, suggested the installation of security cameras in the Southwest Residential area courtyards, in order to deal effectively with potentially dangerous student behavior, according to Ed Blaguszewski, Director of the UMass News Office.

The UMass Police Department (UMPD) and UMass Housing Services worked collaboratively to make decisions and coordinate the plan.

“The security cameras are focused on doorways, lobbies, and areas of high student congregation,” said Blaguszewski emphasizing that the cameras are for security – not surveillance. “Police use the cameras to gather evidence, not to watch students 24/7. They’re not tracking the students’ habits across campus. They don’t have the interest, time, or personnel for that.”

The UMPD uses its Web site, www.umass/edu/umpd to show clips of security camera footage in an effort to obtain information from students who may have seen the suspects.

In the past, the cameras have been the key for the UMPD to charge lawbreakers.

“I was really happy that they had the cameras on campus. I never really thought about how useful they could be until I became a victim,” said Cassandra Klimkutz.

During finals week of last semester, Klimkutz and her neighbor in the Field residence hall in Orchard Hill were victims of vandalism to their dorm room doors.

“Dining commons compost, worms, and who knows what else was thrown at our doors and our rooms were ruined to the point where we couldn’t even live there for the rest of the year,” said Klimkutz.

“After the event, we had no leads and there were no witnesses to help identify possible suspects, but the cops were able to access security cameras in the entrance of my dorm as well as the other dorms in the area and from that were able to eventually identify who the vandals were,” said Klimkutz.

One of the students responsible was later charged with Malicious Destruction of Property and was ordered to pay fines, while the other two students were not charged, according to Klimkutz.

“I would definitely feel much safer with the cameras on campus, and I never thought I would say that, because I am sure that before this incident, I would always say that they were a complete invasion of privacy,” said Klimkutz.

In September 2005, a suspicious man was seen entering a dorm room in the Van Meter residence hall in the Central Residential Area, and the UMPD asked students to call the confidential police tip line with any information on the man.

Earlier in 2005, security cameras observed an armed robbery in the same residence hall, however, the robbers left when an alarm sounded.

The increase in security comes following a report released by ABC Primetime News last November, which declared that UMass has the highest violent crime rate of any school in the nation equal to its size. This assertion outraged UMass officials, drawing criticism of being “inaccurate and badly flawed in its methodology,” from a November 2005 press release from the UMass News Office.

“ABC News used outdated data to calculate its ‘rating’ of campus crime, ignoring 2004 data that showed a reduction in violent crime of more than 50 percent at UMass Amherst. ABC News is using only 2002 and 2003 data, although Clery report information for 2004 was due at the Department of Education by Oct. 1, 2005,” said Blaguszewski.

The federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act “requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses,” according to the UMPD Web site.

The statistics from the Clery Act break crime into four categories: crimes occurring on campus, inside residence halls, on non-campus property, and on public property. Furthermore, the statistics show the type of crime, ranging from violence crimes such as murder and sex offense to non-confrontational crimes, such as drug and alcohol violation and burglary.

According to the UMPD Clery Act statistics, violent crime in on-campus residence halls has shown a downward trend from 2002 to 2004. Robbery, for example, has decreased from five reported incidents in 2002 to three in 2004. Likewise, cases of aggravated assault have decreased from nine to four, and forcible sex offense from 23 to 6 since 2002.

The Act also specifies arrest statistics, which have climbed in residence halls from 41 to 91 from 2002-2004.

“The [ABC] report drew heavily from the year the Red Sox and Patriots became world champions,” said Student Government President, Elvis Mendez. “Consequently, the riots and other abnormal behavior played a large role in distorting the actual figures presented during the report.”

“The Amherst campus, along with the other system campuses, have demonstrated the existence of strong, ongoing, and constantly improving programs that began many years before ABC’s distorted program and will continue long after,” said Lombardi.

Although the cameras will provide additional security on campus, the residence hall monitoring security system will continue to exist in its present form.

“Our job is to monitor who goes in and out of the building,” said UMass junior Brittany Smyth, who has been a security monitor since her freshman year. “If there is an altercation, we call for either an RA or security to check it out. If some type of vandalism or theft takes place, it is easier to look up who signed that person in that fits the description.”

Additional campus security measures include the K-9 unit, which began in 2003. The Police Cadet Program is another program, in which police cadets provide, “an early detection system for suspicious behavior and potential crime on campus,” and various programs such as fare-free bus service and a 14-hour Rape Aggression Defense program offered each semester, according to Blaguszewski.

“There are walking escorts that not many people know about. You can call 545-2123 and ask for an escort from anywhere on campus,” added Smyth.

Lombardi said the existence of the cameras does not invade the privacy of students.

“Security cameras are everywhere,” said Lombardi. “When we go to an ATM machine there is a security camera that takes our picture, similar security cameras are located in many other locations throughout our state and nation, and of course, any of us who visit casinos are under constant surveillance all the time.””If you are coming and going and not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about. The people who are doing wrong things are the ones who don’t want it,” said Smyth.

While the security measures will keep an eye on unwanted visitors of dorms, the total cost of the installation is expected to reach $500,000, according to Blaguszewski.

“Because the security upgrades are within the housing system, these current investments will not have any impact on tuition and academic fees, and the current cost is
already included in the housing rates,” said Lombardi.