As the construction of the Recreation Center will conclude over the summer, students of West Chester University will eagerly await the grand opening. Administration from the Department of Public Safety will devise a plan of video surveillance and of the card readers for the center. “We do an initial aiming of the cameras,” Captain Vining, Assistant Director of Public Safety (DPS), said. He explained that the purpose of pulling camera angles in, out or back, enables for the viewing of a more specific area. He explained that the review is more for the activity on camera, for instance a case of vandalism would involve observing a person’s movements.
After projects are completed, police administrators will review the area to determine any areas not covered by a camera. Vining warns the importance of completing a walk-through because “you can never predict how people are going to use a building.” It is possible, he explained for example, people may use a spare room more commonly than anticipated. The establishment of the Recreation Center, covering 72,000 square feet, will involve 45 cameras. This addition will bring a total of 500 cameras on-campus grounds. Half of the installed video cameras are high definition. A process is in place to replace the cameras at the end of their life with the new technology, if the camera cannot be fixed. “We call it life cycle replacement” to update to the current standard.
“First thing you want to protect is life safety. First and furthermost, you want to protect your people,” Vining said as one reason for the cameras. “You can always replace property.” Safety of the students is the number one concern of the university police, he said. The assistance of the cameras can help with investigations involving physical harm, in addition to helping with theft-related incidents. Cameras deter crime, Vining explained as another reason the cameras hold an importance of their placements in the edifices on-campus. High definition cameras show a “clear picture” of a person’s face and indicate the activity at the scene. Cameras are the “best resource, from an electronic” stance. Security cameras can tell a story, he began. Wide camera shots can allow investigators to see the “activity” in the building.
“Technology will never limit or replace your personal and good sound investigation skills,” Vining acknowledged how eyewitness and personal accounts are ultimately the “best resources.”
Review of camera footage provides a “great tool for investigations” as a source to identify potential witnesses, “limit the suspect pool” and discover evidence of an occurrence. Vining explained an investigation involving camera footage can allow the police to “pick up something from most incidents.” This gives police a starting point to work an investigation, he stated. Investigators turn to the footage as cameras are “predominantly” tools. The DPS has cameras that can save images for 60 to 90 days. The technology enables the cameras to be programmed to record for movement, allowing the camera to record less and provide more storage of recorded material.
“There are two sides to every story and then there’s the truth in the middle,” Vining said. “As an investigator, you have to find the truth. As Law Enforcement, you work to provide the facts.” In addition to camera surveillance, card readers serve to determine who is gaining access to the building. Active WCU students can use their student IDs to access the Recreation Center via a card reader. An access list to the Recreation Center will consist of names provided to DPS. By swiping Ram E cards into the card reader, this allows an entry to those with permission to access the on-campus building(s). This private server allows authorities to “have an electronic notification of who is coming in to the building.”
There are currently 17,000 active cards, including student, faculty, staff members and vendors, Vining said. Each card reader costs $1,100 and can be used for several years. The first reader, placed at the Science building, dates back 16 years. The card readers in the Residence Halls began in 2004 and they are refurbished after two semesters due to the amount of usage. In this case, Residence Life and Housing provides a list of students for access to their designated hall. All card readers log all information based on the student ID number. The information can be held up to five years, however, it is “not a 100% guarantee of anything” as it is only a “fact” in any given investigation.
Vining said the department tries to address locations to place “controlling devices” as they have a “standard footprint to what we do with buildings.” These devices include card readers, door sensors and emergency phones. An emergency phone will be located directly outside the main entrance of the Recreation Center. There are details to place emergency phones inside the center.
In all projects, cameras cover every entry and exit points of the building. With a clear picture from the high definition cameras, this provides another means for police to identify persons as needed. Cameras cover all main doors and also the fire exit only doors. Along with the initial planning of camera placement, DPS administrators will complete a walk-through of the building to determine common paths that students, faculty and guests will take. Several months after a building has opened, they will review the area to establish which areas are in need of cameras. In the case of the Recreation Center, this will be completed early on in the fall semester.
The Recreation Center will be equipped with cameras on the perimeter of the building. These cameras are designed to withstand outdoor conditions. All of the cameras are also on a private secure network
While people expect privacy, Vining said, the average person is on camera up to 30 times a day.
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fifth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.