The University has placed privately owned cameras at 12 intersections on Vine Street ranging from Madison to Taylor Avenues.
Donald Bergmann, University Police Chief and Director of Public Safety, said this is the first time that the city of Scranton has allowed a private company to put cameras on a public utility.
While the cameras were installed by the city, the project was funded entirely by The University. The Vine Street Camera Project was paid for by a fund established specifically for the project, Bergmann said in an email.
The camera system has been in place and operational since March 27. The University announced its plans to build the cameras in July 2014 in a press release.
Bergmann said that the video surveillance system has multiple benefits for University students.
“Video surveillance improves security and safety. With the cameras, we hope they will both deter and assist police after the crimes are committed,” Bergmann said.
Bergmann said the area where the cameras were placed was identified by University Police and the cameras were placed as a preventive measure.
“We identify the issues and what preventative measures we could take. The police can’t be everywhere,” Bergmann said.
The University works closely with the city in regards to the cameras.
“Both police forces have the ability to monitor the cameras,” Bergmann said.
All of the camera feeds on campus are monitored constantly by an officer in the dispatch center in the Public Safety dispatch center.
Even if a crime is missed while it is happening, the camera feeds are always recording. University Police have the ability to go into footage archive and pull any feeds that may have recorded the incident. University Police also have the ability to screenshot live events to pick out details, such as a license plate or clothing details.
While the cameras on Vine Street are stationary, many on campus can be manually positioned, zoomed and rotated. For example, a camera positioned on the roof of the Loyola Science Center overlooks the soccer field and Ridge Row parking lot. The camera’s resolution is so clear and the zoom is so powerful that license plates can easily be read on screen.
Bergmann said Scranton Police still has work to do in establishing similar video surveillance.
“The city is still catching up on a technical level. It should be ready to go in four to six weeks,” Bergmann said.
While the city’s video infrastructure may still be in the works, The University is expanding its video surveillance networks all over campus.
“The new rehab center has cameras. The new building on Madison will have cameras. Any new project warrants discussion of video surveillance,” Bergmann said.
Bergmann hopes students will react positively to the cameras.
“This is the future. To not consider it would have been unfortunate. The project was an appropriate and natural progression to make our students safer. If it makes our students safer, I hope it will be considered positive,” Bergmann said.
Donald Erdy, a junior off-campus resident at The University, has mixed feelings about the cameras on Vine Street.
“It’s good and bad at the same time. On campus, the cameras make sense. Off campus, not so much,” Erdy said.
Erdy said he believes the off-campus cameras will not make a significant difference in crime.
“It will scare some people, but if someone doesn’t know they the cameras are there it won’t make a huge difference,” Erdy said.
Erdy also said he is worried about the number of cameras on campus as well.
“It’s excessive. The University has the right, but nobody likes feeling like they are being watched,” Erdy said.
Bergmann is not the only University official with students’ safety in mind. Charles Kratz, dean of the Weinberg Memorial Library and Information Fluency, uses the library’s cameras to keep students safe, especially with the growing demand for more 24-hour library space.
“Student government asked us for more 24-hour space. We are preparing the 24-hour project on the second floor, which will be ready next year. That will provide even more work space for students,” Kratz said.
The library, in particular, uses its cameras to keep students safe while using the 24 hour sections, such as the Reilly Learning Commons.
“In a space opened 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the cameras become even more important. We would be very concerned about the second floor without the cameras,” Kratz said.
Bonnie Stohl, Associate Dean of the library, believes that students should not be worried by the cameras in the library.
“We are very transparent about the cameras. They are only in 24 hour areas in the building. They are just a deterrent to bad behavior,” Stohl said.
Even with the cameras in the 24 hour areas watching over the students, Kratz warns students to be careful with leaving personal items unattended.
“Students must be aware of their surroundings. They often leave laptops, keys, I.D.’s, wallets, and phones unattended. While the library is safe, students still must be careful,” Kratz said.
April 17, 2015