University of Kentucky spending $5 million on security system with 2,000 cameras

lblackford@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2013 

The University of Kentucky is spending nearly $5 million to assemble a campus security system that relies heavily on 2,000 surveillance cameras, raising questions among some privacy advocates.

Other elements of the system include student ID cards that can track when students enter buildings after hours and the ability to lock down buildings from another location.

The system also includes 26 new "Blue Phone" locations with video cameras, as well as early-warning speakers for crises such as weather emergencies, which will augment the UK Alert system of email, text and phone messages.

"This will allow us unprecedented capability for monitoring the campus for crime and protecting our students, employees and visitors in the event of emergencies, including natural disasters or large-scale acts of criminal behavior," said UK Police Chief Joe Monroe.

The university has hired Next Level Security Systems to install the system. The cameras won't be continually monitored by a person, but video analytics software can detect a strange or unexpected movement, then send an automatic alarm to a dispatch center.

"We're trying to leverage technology instead of manpower," Monroe said.

The system will allow police to review footage at any time, which will let "people cover so much more ground," Monroe said.

Student IDs will now be used to swipe into most buildings on campus, including dorms. For example, a classroom building will stay open all day, but if a student wanted to use the building at night, they would use their ID to unlock the door.

Monroe declined to say how long the new system would store surveillance information, but said it would not be long, nor would any information be used to track students.

Still, the increased surveillance worries the state chapter of the ACLU. Spokeswoman Amber Duke said it's important to know exactly how long surveillance information will be kept by oversight entities.

"You're capturing a lot of information about people who are completely innocent," she said. "That's a lot of information that could be misused. It's always good for the public to have a conversation about it."

Those conversations are happening all over the country. After the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, most universities upgraded their emergency notification plans, said Chris Blake of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement in West Hartford, Conn.

"A number of campuses have purchased TV systems and have cameras on various locations around campuses," Blake said. "But with closed circuit TV cameras, there are areas you can film and areas you probably shouldn't."

UK students don't seem concerned, said Student Government President Roshan Palli.

"As a whole, students have felt really safe on campus, and more than anything else, it would reassure parents and students even more," he said. "It illustrates the administration's emphasis on putting students first."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359Twitter: @lbblackford

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