by Zach Noble, Staff Writer
Last fall, sophomore Ashley Kline ventured to her car one evening, prepared for a shopping expedition, only to find that three of her bumper stickers had been crudely ripped off her bumper and stolen. Kline reported the incident, hoping to bring the vandal to justice, but she was disappointed.
“I went to campus security,” said Kline, “and they looked at the videos and they found out they couldn’t do anything because it was dark out. They can see a shape but they can’t find out who it is if it’s dark out. So if you vandalize a car at night, there’s nothing [Public Safety] can do about it.”
Senior Jillian Janflone, a former Benedict Hall prefect, echoed Kline’s frustration with the security cameras.
“The video quality is ridiculously poor,” said Janflone. “People would break the entrance booth behind Benny six or seven times a semester. They would pull the prefects into the video room in Benny and see if we could identify the breakers of this post, and all you can see is a fuzzy human-shaped object loping down in a black hoodie. The camera would not show them going into the building, so once they entered the building you didn’t know where they were going, you couldn’t tell if they were male, female, black, white, purple, so unless you had your name across the back of your hoodie, it was worthless.”
Steve Brown, Director of Public Safety, spoke to a few issues with the security cameras.
“Are [the cameras] definitive?” said Brown, “No, they’re not. Just because you have cameras doesn’t mean you’re going to catch everything. The cameras have limited focus; they have limited ability to cover areas. Even to cover a small area may take multiple cameras.”
Mr. Brown refused to say how many cameras are on campus or where exactly cameras are posted.
“We’ve increased the use of our cameras on campus, we’re putting them in more and more locations,” said Brown, “but they’re not in any private areas.”
According to Brown, an unresolved case like Kline’s, in which a perpetrator was caught on camera but unable to be identified, is not a result of the camera quality, but rather is a result of bad recording.
“We are probably in the middle [technologically] of other colleges our size,” said Brown. All campus security cameras are between 420 and 580 TV lines. “Anything over 480 lines looks like a computer screen, sharp, detailed, and everything else,” said Brown.
Most violations, however, are not viewed by a prefect or public safety officer as they occur, so while the camera quality may be good, the recording quality is more important.
“If you’re not watching it real time,” said Brown, “you’ll see less clarity.”
Various different recording devices (again, Brown would not specify the exact machines) in each residence hall record the security camera footage for that building. Due to memory limitations, the devices record security camera footage at a reduced frame rate, leading to a degraded video quality with a “stop-motion video” effect. It was this problem of poor recording quality that prevented the vandal of Kline’s car from being identified.
Despite their limitations, however, Brown claimed that other cases had been solved thanks to SVC security cameras.
“We have resolved cases by using those cameras,” said Brown. “A number of years ago we had a stolen car dropped off in our lot, and we were able to bring the state police in, and they identified the suspect based upon the video that we provided them. People are identified all the time from quality less than what we have here at the college.”
Residents of Bonaventure and Gerard halls are no doubt familiar with the recently posted rear exit signs saying, “YOU ARE ON CAMERA.” When asked about the easily jimmied backdoors of Bonaventure and Gerard halls, Brown said, “We are not charged with going through and identifying people who are violating housing policy.”
The efficacy and intrusiveness of the SVC security camera system remain shrouded in secrecy. Public Safety refused to allow The Review to see any camera footage at the guard booth, and administration officials, including Bill Barnes and Mary Collins, refused to detail how security camera footage is used in judicial hearings. Collins emphasized the point that camera footage is meant to fairly identify wrongdoers, rather than to threaten students into confessing wrongdoing.
“Our goal is not to trick students,” said Collins.
Hidden cameras are not placed “unless we’re doing an ongoing investigation,” said Steve Brown. “If you don’t see [cameras], they’re not there.”