The Arizona Desert Lamp

The Camera Charade

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 7 October 2008

In light of Connor’s sharp post on crime on campus, it’s useful to see the stats in light of one senator’s pet project: residence hall cameras. During the campaign, Sen. Bryan Baker emphasized this “Project Crime Stop”, with the goal  of placing security cameras at the entrances and exits of all dorms, at a cost of $2 million.

Yet looking at the stats, it’s hard to see how these would help. Excluding the victimless crimes of drinking and drugs, the third highest number of offenses on campus are DUIs. Dorm cameras have nothing to do with this. Next up? Theft, whose extremely broad definition (“Controlling the property of another without consent.”) may or may not include the theft of objects from cars (although that would seem to fall under the aegis of “robbery”). Either way, cameras are useless here as well — the best they could would be to use a an estimation of the time of the crime, and maybe match it up with a person. Except, of course, that this could be a coincidence, and that you’ll have someone unfairly implicated.

Instead, what Baker has done is effectively combined the fear-mongering from the wake of Virginia Tech (which, it should be pointed out, occurred primarily in lecture halls), along with the fears from the sexual assault at Manzanita-Mohave in 2007*, instead of focusing on the day-to-day threats of, say, DUIs. It’s also not exactly clear how cameras would prevent even these sorts of events. Would the killers at Columbine or VaTech seriously reconsider their acts in light of a big, scary camera?

Then there are the privacy issues, which Sen. Baker has had a particularly tough time getting a grasp of. When asked about it during the campaign, he said that he had not considered the issues, and was surprised that such a concern would even come up. Two meetings ago, when devising a survey to be sent to students, among the questions proposed was (in his words), “Do cameras violate ‘yourself’?” Without going too far on this tangent, you can start here. Then go here. After that, try this. Then there’s this little thing, although being a dated piece of paper, I don’t know how well it applies.

Finally, there is the issue of cost and cost-effectiveness. While the safety of students on campus cannot simply be budgeted out, proposals that only improve safety as a side effect, for an extremely high cost, should be seriously reconsidered. Furthermore, the budget for dorms on campus is already strained, with much of the budget going towards the three new dorms slated for construction. Current dorms are having trouble getting basic needs such as new carpeting and other basic fixes, things which should focused on before expensive gadgets, strong on looks but weak in effects.

A modest proposal instead: were UAPD to reduce their focus on busting drinkers and pot-smokers, they might be able to actually the resources to institute a sort of dorm-based police, in a campus-based modification of community policing. Cops would become integrated into the dorm(s) that they monitor; rather than being viewed as an entity to be distrusted and avoided at all costs (“I’m worried about my friend, but I don’t want the cop to smell the alcohol on my breath and cite me”), they could instead be trusted confidantes, and maybe even friends who help even with issues outside of the law. Cops could participate on dorm-wide activities, contests with other dorms, and other activities, while at the same time being on the scene in case anything should happen.

Of course, this requires a hell of a police force, i.e. one that doesn’t wallow in its own inflated sense of self, doesn’t pointlessly exercise authority, and doesn’t generally pretend to be auditioning for NYPD Blue; however, if this experience at Manzi-Mo is any indicator, the UAPD might not yet be up to the task.


*- Curiously, the UAPD stats say that there were no sexual assaults in 2007, or in 2008. Anyone know why this might be?

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4 Responses

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  1. Connor Mendenhall said, on 7 October 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Were you looking at arrest stats or reported crime stats? I’d imagine it’s also a jurisdictional issue — TPD may be called more often for the serious stuff, which would tend to bias the numbers we see towards the trivial.

  2. […] safety—a problem Iowa State solved by installing emergency phones on every floor. But hell, once Project Crime Stop gets rolling, students may never need 911 again! « Campus Politics and the […]

  3. […] an earlier take on dorm cameras, read here. Meanwhile, rumor has it that the long-planned security survey has been released to the public. If […]

  4. […] support staff with “legitimate educational interest” (there goes a privacy objection to Project Crime STOP), a few exceptions in the case of serious disciplinary violations, especially sex offences, and […]


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