Progress in both technology and the size of Elon University has led to the number of campus security cameras to balloon to roughly 500 total.
The cameras are primarily located in places such as parking lots and campus pathways, Elon Police Chief Dennis Franks said in an email, where people could be vulnerable to crime that no one else could witness.
Other cameras are installed on building exteriors and popular areas in larger, public buildings such as the Moseley Center and Belk Library. No cameras are installed inside of residential rooms, according to Franks.
“The cameras serve dual purpose,” Franks said. “The footage can be used to identify particular information regarding an incident, either capturing the incident or piecing together information surrounding an incident. The cameras also can serve as a deterrent. If people know there is potential to be caught on tape they might decide not to take a particular action.”
Campus security cameras aren’t monitored around-the-clock. Their main purpose is to collect footage that is then stored on in-house and cloud-based servers. The costs of storing video are included in the original cost of the cameras, Franks said.
According to an E-Net article published in September, the cameras have recently helped in arresting someone in the process of an attempted Danieley Neighborhood break-in last spring and capturing footage of someone pushing the Kugel ball off a fountain in the Numen Lumen meditation garden this semester.
“When we first rolled out cameras, there was great concern that our community would feel it was always being watched,” said Christopher Waters, assistant vice president for technology and chief information officer in the article. “Now, it’s not uncommon for students to ask, ‘Why wasn’t there a camera there?’ after an incident not caught by the system.”
Also in the system is footage from body cameras attached to police officers, which has seen a rise in popularity nationally. Elon purchased body cameras in late 2013 and launched their use last year, Franks said. Along with dash car cameras, body cameras are used to document incidents Campus Safety and Police respond to.
VideoSurveillance.com, a security integration company, said on its website that campus cameras can secure facilities, protect students late at night and deter theft and break-ins. It can be a net positive, especially when combined with the Town of Elon’s fourth-place finish in SafeWise’s 2015 “Safest College Towns in America” ranking.
However, the website also adds that campus cameras are vulnerable to tampering and can create a false sense of security, along with privacy concerns.
Junior Sara Blough said the presence of security cameras makes her feel safer, as long as the university doesn’t install any in residences. Junior Emily Thomas said she feels the same in regards to campus safety, whether there are security cameras or not.
“I live off-campus so it’s not something I think about a lot,” Thomas said. “But generally when I’m walking around here I feel pretty safe. I think more blue lights [emergency response systems] would be more effective than cameras.”
Franks said the video footage is only available to campus police officers, but they may share footage with other law enforcement agencies at the request of university officials.
“There are strict protocols in place to ensure privacy of people on campus, and the footage is only reviewed in response to specific incidents or investigations,” he said.