As you walk throughout the Gustavus campus, a series of security cameras are watching and recording many of the steps you take. Yet, many students are unaware that this silent neighbor is watching them.
“I think the only one I have seen is in the [Market Place],” First-year Amber Sanoski said.
The purpose of most of the cameras at Gustavus is to record areas where theft or crime could occur and serve as a record if they do. Although there are monitors in the Campus Safety office, the cameras are not watched continuously.
“We’re not really doing it as a big brother. We’re looking for if something happens, then we can go back and look at it. If we were to have a critical incident on campus, we could pull up the cameras to see what’s going on and evaluate how we’re going to deal with that situation,” Director of Campus Safety Ray Thrower said.
Security cameras are located in the Post Office to comply with federal regulations, the Market Place to combat theft issues and serve as an indication of the amount of traffic at certain times of the day, computer labs to watch for theft and monitor printers, Lund Center to watch for theft and in the Book Mark, to name a few places.
The cameras in the Book Mark have been especially helpful in catching textbook thieves.
“We actually broke one of the largest rings in Minnesota a couple of years ago with the cameras,” Thrower said.
Lund Center is another area where the cameras have been helpful in catching thieves.
“We have a lot of thefts that occur in Lund Center. If someone leaves their book bag sitting out and it has a laptop computer and some other stuff, or they leave their wallet sitting out, that’s a crime of opportunity,” Thrower said.
There is some question as to whether or not these cameras are effective in reducing crime.
“[People] still get stuff stolen out of Lund even though there is a camera right by the racks. What’s the point if no one is going to watch it?” Junior Physics Major Nick Atkins said.
Some students feel that additional cameras in the dorms could be helpful in figuring out cases of vandalism, especially if it would mean that the fines would not be spread out around all students in the area.
“A couple of months ago, there was some vandalism in [Norelius]. It’s a fee I have to pay for something I didn’t do,” Sanoski said.
Not all of the cameras on campus are used for security. Technology Services uses cameras to monitor the stacks of paper near printers.
“We [can] see that there [isn’t] any paper and send someone out. [Cameras are] relatively inexpensive, so just for that they [are] worthwhile,” Associate Director of Core Services Ethan Sommer said.
“We have tried to put them in the labs in such a way that they can see as much useful other stuff, other than the printer, as possible. If we can also monitor the doorways, so we can see if someone walks out with a computer, we would be able to use that information later,” Associate Director of Core Services Dan Oachs said.
While many cameras are recorded for security purposes, not all of the cameras on campus are used for this purpose.
“We do have some cameras around campus that are the same type of camera that are not security cameras. There’s a camera in the Chapel and there’s a camera in the St. Peter room and those are there for live streaming or lecture capture,” Sommer said.
The college has tried not to hide the fact that it uses security cameras. All of the cameras that are permanently mounted are publicly visible.
“We do have covert cameras that we could use in undercover investigations. The nice thing is they’re not used that often, because we don’t have to. We haven’t used any covert cameras at all this school year, and that makes me happy. [It] is approved by the Vice President for Student Life before we [use them],” Thrower said.
In addition, the college does not put cameras in locations where they would be an invasion of privacy.
“We don’t put them in bathrooms; we don’t put them in locker rooms, or anything like that. They’re out in public areas. They have solved a lot of cases. I use the cameras probably on a weekly basis on current cases,” Thrower said.
In the future, the college plans to add additional cameras on both the inside and the outside of the new academic building.
“We have a few cameras outside right now that we’re experimenting with. When we [wire] the new academic building, there will be some cameras not only on the inside, but the outside, so we can monitor the parking lots a little more,” Thrower said.
Footage from the security cameras is saved for around 30 days. “The reason that we keep it for 30 days is because students often don’t report it immediately. That gives us time to go back and capture that video,” Thrower said.
In addition to the use of security cameras, the college uses other technological tactics to monitor the campus. Last week, the college began implementing card access technology, aimed at tracking door entry and making key distribution simpler. The card locks were installed on some doors in Nobel Hall.
“We’re looking at chemicals and stuff that we have on campus that we need to track and then on some of the high dollar labs. We’re also going to be putting a card reader on the outside of Nobel to see how it works for after-hours,” Thrower said.
Thrower believes that there will be less of a headache if someone loses a key with the new system.
“If a student or a professor lost an outside door key, we would have to re-key. With this, you don’t [need to]. Nobody else is affected by it. With this, everybody [who] has an outside door key has to come down and get another key,” Thrower said.
Some students feel card access would help improve security. “Our [first] year, the key to the entrance to [Norelius Hall] was close enough to the master key that you could go up on the roof if you wiggled [the key] just right,” Atkins said.
While there are benefits to cameras and card access, it does come at a cost.
“I would say the base cost for a camera would be on the order of $600, including the license. [Cameras] that can see in the dark and move around cost more, [and cameras] that are outdoors cost much more. In terms of the access control, I think a good rule of thumb is that it costs about $2,000 for every door that you do,” Sommer said.