By Katie Zeck and
In 2004, the first video surveillance cameras were installed on the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses. Since that time, the cameras have multiplied on the two campuses and have proven to be an effective tool in helping to decrease burglaries and car thefts.
However, Public Safety’s policy for placement of cameras and access to the recordings is not published for public access.
Director of Public Safety Vickie Weaver says that this is because the policies and procedures are outlined in a patrol guide which governs Public Safety’s work in securing and protecting the campus.
“The information obtained through monitoring the cameras is used exclusively for security and law enforcement purposes. We oversee our cameras so we need policies and procedures to govern how we operate.”
A portion of Rider’s annual Fire and Safety Report does provide notice of the campuses’ surveillance system.
“Surveillance cameras record activity in the majority of campus parking lots and other public areas,” said the report. Although the University makes it clear that the community is under surveillance, an indication of where cameras will or will not be placed is not included.
The report also shows that, since the time of the installation of security cameras on campus, crime has decreased and the total amount of cameras on campus has increased to 73 at Lawrenceville and 27 at WCC. In 2006, Rider reported a total of 28 on-campus burglaries and 30 in 2007. Since then, the number of burglaries has consistently decreased. In the most recent report from 2012, there were 19 burglaries on the Lawrenceville campus and four at WCC.
However, Weaver added that the cameras were just one digital tool out of many initiatives, including educational programs that discuss ways for students to protect themselves from theft, that created the safer campus environment that is reflected in the Fire and Safety Report.
Public Safety and other sources feel that surveillance is a beneficial to colleges and universities.
According to videosurveillance.com, advantages to university surveillance equipment include the protection of students, maintenance of secure facilities, crime deterrence, prevention of vandalism, assistance in investigations and monitoring of parking lots.
Weaver said that the recordings are used for specific reasons, such as investigative purposes. If an incident takes place on campus, she said, an officer will go back and look at the surveillance footage.
“The cameras are located primarily outside,” she said. “They monitor activity in the parking lots and high-traffic outdoor areas. We have another group of cameras that are located in the high-traffic indoor areas, such as dining halls, the 24-hour study lounge, the SRC and the BLC.”
The cameras were updated in 2006 and again in 2012.
Students and faculty are notified of the video surveillance by the signs that are placed at the university’s south entrance.
Weaver was able to verbalize some of the ways the video surveillance is used.
“There is passive monitoring, which is the more likely of the two that we do, and we use it as part of an investigation after an incident has been reported to us, and then when an incident is reported, we’ll go back and look at the video footage to see any details that would help us with the investigation,” she said.
Weaver added that there are restrictions to the length of time any specific footage is kept.
“The video can be stored for up to two weeks, though we keep in mind the activity levels of each video,” she said.
Danielle Cerasani, sophomore public relations major, said that she feels students should know some of the specifics of the surveillance cameras.
“I want to know when I’m being watched and why,” she said.
Weaver was able to address some of her concerns.
“Only Public Safety has access to it for monitoring,” Weaver said. “We have an established policy for our department. As far as who wants to be able to look at it, they can certainly let me know and depending on the nature I’ll try to work with them.”
Some students are unhappy that even though Public Safety officers follow the internal department procedure, the exact policy is unknown to students.
“I think it’s unfair that we are being watched and are unaware of the policies,” sophomore psychology major Chelsea Levine said.
While the policy is not published for the public, Weaver said that students are welcome to reach out to Public Safety regarding surveillance camera use or if they have questions regarding the cameras in general.
According to Weaver, a committee composed of Public Safety, Student Affairs, Facilites and OIT will be meeting this semester to discuss the requests for additional surveillance cameras. The committee’s focus is to establish a process for camera request and determine priorities moving forward.
Rider isn’t the only school that doesn’t make its video surveillance policy entirely available to the public.
Rowan, Monmouth and Montclair State have no form of a written policy in place for their video surveillance cameras.
Seton Hall’s website states that off-campus university owned residence halls are equipped with electronic surveillance systems.
The statement went on to say that “intruder alarms and electronic surveillance systems are also in use throughout the campus.”
At Rutgers, there is a paragraph in the university’s annual public safety report that described the use of the campus’ closed-circuit television cameras.
“The Security Technologies Group is responsible for the installation and service of access control systems, intrusion and panic alarm systems, closed-circuit television cameras, and door hardware through-out the university,” the report says. “In 2007, the Cameras for Safety project was initiated and we continue to add to the already 2700 cameras installed throughout the university. These cameras are intended to prevent, detect, and record events that violate university regulations.”
Ramapo, St. Joseph’s, Fairleigh Dickinson and Hofstra all had similar paragraphs about their surveillance systems that were a part of a larger security report. The schools gave a general overview of the use of the surveillance cameras, but provided no specific details of the specific use of the cameras’ footage.
Two nearby schools, however, publish in-depth, detailed public policies for the use of video surveillance footage: The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Drexel.
In Stockton’s procedure for its closed circuit television monitoring and recording, five pages of text are designated to describing the principles behind the video monitoring, accountability for who is able to view the videos, the extent of community involvement in accessing the footage, procedures for accessing the recordings and instances where special investigations of the footage would take place.
Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, finds that the lack of a written procedure for the use of campus surveillance cameras is unethical and a violation of civil liberties.
“That is an issue that has come up many times before in surveillance cases,” he said. “There might be a fear of who can potentially see this footage and where it goes. It could go on the Internet or it could be used against someone. In the future, this could easily be answered by a policy statement that clarifies how the footage is stored and how secure it is,” said Shalom.
According to Shalom, some places that should be specified as surveillance-free would be the health center, religious centers and dorms. He provided the example that someone may not want anyone to know what religious practices they observe, or what health issues they have.
“Cameras would catch all of these things and cause a conflict of interest with the individuals’ privacy,” he said.
Rider’s Communication and Journalism Department has a written surveillance camera policy that was created as a result of technology theft within the department that took place last semester.
Sophomore marketing major and resident advisor, Fatima Koroma is glad Rider’s surveillance system is helping create a safer campus.
“The cameras are necessary because the student’s safety is first at a university,” she said. “It prevents outside intruders, so it’s not always about just seeing what the students are doing.”