Plans are in place for installing surveillance cameras in various places in residence halls at Oswego State.
A series of cameras have already been placed in the tunnels connecting Seneca Hall to Cayuga Hall and Onondaga Hall to Oneida Hall. The proposed cameras would be placed in tunnels, lobbies, secondary entrances, stairway landings, laundry rooms and elevators in each of the 13 residence halls, and possibly parking lots.
The student-run Residence Hall Advisory Board sent a proposal to Resident Life and Housing in April requesting the cameras because of growing concern over student safety and security. The request gathered momentum in response to the string of vandalism last fall and thefts that occurred in several residence halls last spring. But Richard Kolenda, assistant vice president for Residence Life and Housing, said that the cameras proposal is not the result of any specific event.
“It’s something that students are very concerned about,” Kolenda said. “The RHAB wanted to have, for safety and security reasons, to have these surveillance cameras that would be available for their own safety and security.”
RHAB took the issue to a general assembly meeting where all hall representatives were present and said that the vandalisms and thefts had a negative impact on the financial budgets of ResLife and the individual residence halls themselves, particularly on West Campus, according to former RHAB Vice President Trevor Bacon. The proposal was passed with more than three-fourths of residents’ approval.
“We were informed after the proposal that the cameras will not be monitored regularly, but they will be utilized when there is a vandalism or theft incident and there needs to be someone held accountable for that incident,” Bacon said.
Senior Christina Grehlinger was one of many students victimized by a night-time theft in Funnelle Hall in February. She had her cellphone stolen from her bedside while she slept.
“If cameras had been there that night last year, there would’ve been solid proof of a person breaking into many, many
rooms and maybe the victims of those crimes could’ve been helped a little bit more,” Grehlinger said. “I guess I should feel lucky I just got my phone stolen, next time it could be rape or violence. Cameras in the hallways would help. After all, shouldn’t student protection be the top priority of our school? This could be a step forward in areas where the school has otherwise lacked.”
Grehlinger added that, at present, there are many ways to avoid what kind of security the buildings have, such as entering through a side entrance instead of the main entrance or waiting until after 3 a.m. when the RAs stop checking student IDs at the door.
“I don’t think that cameras will be that effective because people can be let in by residents either in the stairwells or one of the main lounges,” Funnelle Hall RA Tony Wizner said. “The front door and the back door, where we have a mirror, aren’t the only ways to get into a building.”
Kolenda said the surveillance cameras are being designed by Campus Technology Services and a lot of final decisions are yet to be made.
“What kind of cabling has to be put in, location specifics, how will they put back into a monitoring system and what would be the tracking system,” Kolenda said. “University Police will have a monitoring station and that program would have to be set up.”
This brings up the issue of student privacy. Some students are concerned about who will be monitoring the cameras and what will be done with the footage taken from them.
“We don’t know how exactly that will be, but it’s not the kind of thing where anybody’s just going to be staring at it 24 hours a day,” Kolenda said. “It will just be there.”
Kolenda also said that students should not be concerned because the locations the cameras will be installed in are all public places and they will not be put on student floors or anywhere that is in their living area. Regardless, RHAB made a clear statement about privacy in their proposal, stating “When installing these cameras, however, residents’ privacy concerns need to be taken seriously and every attempt should be taken to relieve any such concerns (i.e. cameras face entry doors in lobbies rather than facing where residents tend to gather).”
“It is natural for people to be threatened by the idea of being put under surveillance due to their own privacy, but I feel they should not worry if they aren’t committing any crimes,” Bacon said.
Grehlinger said that, if the cameras will help prevent situations like hers from happening again, she is willing to sacrifice privacy for security on campus and other students would too in the same scenario.
“I definitely think students are going to feel that their privacy is being invaded and I can’t say I disagree with that,” Grehlinger said. “I have a feeling these cameras will lead to police punishing petty things, rather than bigger crimes that need to be followed, and students will resent that. I honestly think it’s a matter or weighing out the pros and cons — ‘Would I rather be upset that there are cameras in common areas or recognize that there is some sort of security?’ I think there are valid arguments on both sides, but until you experience something like I have, you don’t fully realize how terrifying it is to go to sleep at night and worry someone is going to stroll into your room and there will be no physical proof he or she was ever there.”
According to Kolenda, there is no cost estimate yet for the cameras. The college hopes to have them installed and operational by fall 2014.