As part of Pomona College’s comprehensive efforts to bolster security on campus, preliminary discussions have begun about the installation of a video management system in all residence halls.
The idea has some students and administrators concerned that installing cameras could negatively affect aspects of privacy and community on campus, while others maintain that recent security breaches necessitate improved safety measures at the college.
According to Pomona Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum, a video management system would likely monitor the exterior entrance points of all residence halls on campus, as well as some courtyard areas on North Campus where the architecture creates too many outdoor entrances to monitor individually. Feldblum said that she would like for the proposal for the security camera system to be completed by the end of this academic year.
“Such [a video surveillance] system would have a tremendous deterrent effect on crime [at Pomona],” said Shahram Ariane, Director of Campus Safety in an e-mail to TSL.
The proposal has provoked concerns among students and administrators that security cameras around residence halls could adversely affect the Pomona student body.
“I have a problem with the cameras because I think they’re going to negatively impact the atmosphere on campus,” said ASPC Vice President for Finance Cosimo Thawley PO ’11, who sits on the Student Affairs Committee (SAC), which is discussing the proposal. “I think we’ve got a trusting, comfortable atmosphere, and I think that while cameras probably have some security benefit, it’s outweighed by the impact it would have on our community.”
Thawley expressed concern that the cameras intended to monitor intruders and burglars could ultimately be used for other purposes, like policy enforcement.
“It’s easy to say that [cameras] are just put in for security,” he said. “But there are instances where I’m sure it would be very tempting to say, ‘we could see this on the cameras, so why not just do it because they’re there.’”
Feldblum said she did not think that use of the cameras for this purpose “would be very frequent,” but she did not deny the possibility.
“I don’t think that’s where the eyes of the safety officers would be going as they’re looking at the cameras,” she said.
However, Feldblum said that students should have the same expectations for violating college policies as they would if a dean were personally present, as the RAs and deans are expected not to ignore policy violations even when they are not specifically looking for them.
“Just think, what would happen if instead of watching the video, [a dean] was actually just standing there face to face—we should go with those expectations,” she said.
But Feldblum emphasized that security cameras would be used primarily to thwart intrusions or robberies.
“There [would not be] a bank of screens and someone actively monitoring,” she said. “It would be used in case there was an incident, or at the point of an incident. There would have to be reason to pull up a camera. I think that gives students some reasonable expectations.”
“It’s about the health and safety of the community,” Feldblum said.
“Our goal has never been to monitor or keep track of our student population,” Ariane added.
Thawley also said that he had not seen evidence that a camera system would be effective enough for such an expensive undertaking.
“It would be nice to see research to show that at similar colleges, when they’ve installed security cameras [and] all things the same, that burglaries have gone down,” he said. “To me, it’s just a little unproven, and it’s going to be a lot of money… for something that I’m not sure they can prove will really help security.”
ASPC North Campus Representative and SAC member Caroline Rubin PO ’12 took a more moderate position on the proposal.
“I think the cameras could be a good idea depending on where there were placed and how they were used,” she said, though she expressed doubts about the effectiveness of after-the-fact video investigations.
“Based on video evidence looked at a few days after the incident, it would be just as hard to catch someone who had burglarized a student’s room than if there were no video footage,” she said.
According to Associate Dean of Students Neil Gerard, Pomona already uses some security cameras in computer labs, parking lots, and some bike racks on campus—and they’ve worked as deterrents in the past. Gerard pointed to an incident several years ago when the college was able to identify a computer theft using the cameras.
“There are currently several campuses within The Claremont Colleges’ community that utilize a video management system,” Ariane said. “Some have recently budgeted significant resources to upgrade their existing system as they see it as a major component of their overall plan to create a safety environment for their students, faculty, and staff.”
Ariane pointed to a case last semester in which security videos were used to identify a bike theft when the suspect attempted a second theft, and officers were able to recognize him from an earlier video image.
The expected cost of the video management system is not known, but Feldblum said that the college would consider competing bids once the decision to install a system becomes final.
“I don’t think it’s cheap,” she said. “I think it’s a worthwhile and necessary investment. One wants to do it in a way that makes sense, that will actually help to assist in identifying who’s stolen items.”
Feldblum and Gerard both emphasized the need for additional security measures to be implemented, although the priority of video security with respect to other approaches remained a subject of debate.
Feldblum said the video management system would serve as one element of what Feldblum called a ”multi-pronged” approach to enhance security across the college’s campus after multiple security incidents this year.
Gerard said he thought changes in student behavior could offset the need for video cameras.
“I wish we didn’t [need cameras],” he said. “I wish students were more careful; I wish students wouldn’t prop doors. I think if students took more care of each other in that sense and their personal property, we could maybe use that money in a more productive way, but you have to believe that safety is your number one concern when it comes to students.”
“I have very mixed feelings about whether the expense is warranted,” he added.
“We also need more education,” he said. “We need people to lock their doors, people to close their windows, things like that. I actually think those other things are more important.”