Editor’s note: This story is the first of several stories on surveillance cameras on campus. Pick up Wednesday’s print edition for a VIBE section devoted to surveillance cameras and privacy.
Central Michigan University has accumulated 546 surveillance cameras in the last eight years across campus, and more installations are in sight.
Over the past four years especially, the university has seen a significant spike in the number of cameras on campus, which the CMU Police Department argues are crucial to campus safety.
“When I first came here, there were about 300 cameras, and now four years later, we are over 500,” CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley said. “I like the commitment, and I like how we are using them.”
Yeagley said the cameras are not monitored every hour of every day, but police still have the capability to pull up different cameras at different times to view.
“What they cost electricity-wise, I don’t have a clue, but my thought is as soon as we turn it off, we miss something we needed that camera to capture,” he said.
No one is specifically in charge of viewing the monitors all the time because it is handled by Central Dispatch and other officers, Yeagley said.
The areas identified by police as having a high volume of people have more cameras, such as the residence halls, Park Library, Bovee University Center, Kelly/Shorts Stadium and the Student Activity Center.
When the university first started investing in surveillance cameras, administrators visited other schools that utilized cameras, such as Western Michigan University and Jackson Public Schools.
“When we started talking about doing more with cameras, we visited several campuses that were using cameras more than we were at that time,” Vice President of Information Technology Roger Rehm said. “The use of cameras has grown dramatically, because people who manage buildings understand that there is real value to having the cameras there.”
The most recent camera installations took place at the UC, and parking lots appear to be next.
“We are trying to add more to parking lots, not because of the volume of people, but because of the incidents caused by a lot of vehicles being parked there,” Yeagley said.
When cameras were first installed, Rehm wanted to stick with the same brand of camera for continuity.
“At the time I came in, we were talking about standardizing on cameras because we had finally gotten to a point where there were enough of them starting to show up where we were looking at having a standard brand that we could work with,” Rehm said.
At approximately $500 per camera, the total value of the camera inventory to date is roughly $250,000, Rehm said. The total investment in the camera system, including the cost of the fiber to connect them, the video recorders and the rest of the support system comes to an estimated $500,000.
The IT department works with the CMU Police Department in adjusting and replacing cameras by using regular round robin checks of them to ensure all are functioning. Someone sits in front of several monitors and flips from camera to camera, asking for cameras to be adjusted or replaced.
“Over time, things happen to the cameras; instead of being exactly where you want it, it drops a little,” Yeagley said. “If something is not working, they simply make note of it.”
Some of the cameras on campus are mobile/temporary, which are motion-censored for the purpose of finding a crime that happens on a continuous basis. They are meant to save power when no one is in an empty office space while still serving their purpose.
Yeagley said the temporary cameras do not require the university to install the cameras when there is a brief problem.
“From a police perspective, it is a wonderful investigative tool,” Yeagley said. “It proves if people are telling the truth or are stretching the truth.”
Rehm said the presence of the cameras adds another layer of physical security in preventing crimes and should be considered a wise investment.
“I think one of the big things is deterrence,” Rehm said. “I have heard of schools that regularly install cameras that are dummies that just sit there with blinking lights and periodically move around a bit.”