Guilford College is considered an open campus, which anyone can enter and leave at will, and only the residence halls and the library require individuals to swipe in. With the implementation of CCTV cameras at Guilford, there is concern that the College is cracking down on recent incidents by removing what students value most: privacy.
The newly installed system involves 166 cameras (116 exterior cameras and 50 interior cameras) covering eight buildings on campus, including Milner Hall, Hege Library and Bauman Telecommunications Center, among others. The cameras are specifically located in the entrances, stairwells and walkways near these buildings (with cameras in the hallways a strong possibility). They are inaudible, do not move and allow video to be sent over the computer network. The video will not be constantly monitored and will only be examined when an incident occurs.
Video can be screenshotted and recorded, and playback of footage can go as far as two and a half months. The only ones with access to the footage are Dean of Students Steve Mencarini, Director of IT&S Chuck Curry and Director of Public Safety Jermaine Thomas. Police would need a warrant to see the footage, and Community Directors would need to go through Thomas in order to view the footage, though Guilford’s Policy Committee is considering giving access to more people. In all places where cameras exist on campus, signage will be posted.
According to Public Safety, these cameras will provide an increased sense of security, be an investigative tool, raise risk perception, reduce blind spots and enable spot checks of Public Safety officers to ensure that they are making their rounds.
In order to do this, Public Safety should consistently monitor the footage on a regular basis rather than only doing so when an incident happens. While subjecting it to constant monitoring is going overboard, a regular and consistent schedule of examining the footage will ensure that Public Safety officers are fully aware of suspicious patterns that could lead to an incident, and are able to act accordingly.
In addition, where there are cameras the lighting should be improved so that visibility is not compromised not only for people viewing the footage, but also for students that are walking at all hours of the night. Currently, some of the darkest areas of campus, including the stairwell to the basement of the Bauman Telecommunications Center and the basement of Mary Hobbes, not only don’t have cameras, these stairwells also don’t have sufficient lighting or any lighting at all and they can’t be seen from the road.
Whenever there is a new implementation of security features on campus, I am always a little concerned that the cost of implementation won’t result in the return of investment promised, namely, students feeling more secure on campus. This is what happened with the POMCO devices given out during my freshman year in August 2016. Even before I promptly lost the entire lanyard it was on, I noticed that its connection to bluetooth was always dependent on whether I had my phone with me, and the device wouldn’t even work if I didn’t. Though I didn’t use it, I still had to charge it every week because, of course, its death was an unfortunate consequence of just being connected to my phone.
In order for the security cameras not to end up like that useless device, they must be monitored enough to be a valid and reliable investigative tool, and they must be used in tandem with increased lighting on campus in order to reduce blind spots.
Editor’s note: This story originally was published in Volume 106, Issue 5 of The Guilfordian on Nov. 8 2019.