UK police chief says new security cameras deter crime, allow police to watch problem areas

tcrumbie@herald-leader.comJune 13, 2014 

It was a case that police cracked in a matter of hours.

An empty cardboard beer case was ignited and then placed under a car parked at Commonwealth Stadium. University of Kentucky police said the culprits drove off into the night without a witness in sight.

But the incident on April 16 wasn't exactly unseen. The following morning, campus police released surveillance photos and video of a station wagon that drove away from the fire. That night, UK Police Chief Joe Monroe announced that police arrested Cullen Gallaher, 18, and Ian Baughman, 19, charging them with second-degree arson, a felony. Charges against a third student have been dismissed.

Monroe couldn't say much about that case because it's pending, but it is an example of how the university's new security cameras have aided campus police during investigations.

"People know that we're gonna get 'em," Monroe said, noting that the cameras were "working wonderfully."

The cameras — about 1,000 now — have essentially given police vision in places where they were once blind.

The chief credits the cameras, which are strategically placed throughout campus on poles, emergency telephone towers and inside and outside of buildings, with deterring crime on campus. Monroe said cameras were installed in high traffic areas or places where there have been problems in the past.

The cameras were used to monitor the celebrations that occurred on State Street during UK's progression through the NCAA men's basketball tournament earlier this year. Police arrested dozens of people whose celebrating got a little out of hand.

Regardless how useful the cameras are, they can't replace officers, Monroe said.

"We had more officers on State Street than anything," Monroe said. "The cameras themselves are pretty much a tool to use to give us a real-time monitoring of other areas."

The university has already spent nearly $5 million from campus funds on the new camera monitoring system. Installation began last fall, and there could be a total of 2,000 cameras once the system is fully implemented, Monroe said. Cameras will be added as the university adds new buildings, he said. "The system will grow as the university grows."

The cameras are not actively monitored, but can record a specific area during a pre-programmed time. The cameras also detect a bag or package left in an area, and it sends officers a notification.

"It's doing the same thing the airports do," Monroe said.

Anthany Beatty, UK's assistant vice president for campus services, agreed the cameras help police. Beatty, who has been overseeing campus security at UK since January 2008, said the technology allows them to zoom in and create high-quality images that can be used at trial.

However, the cameras don't catch everything.

Theft is still an issue on campus, and Monroe said that will likely continue to be high because college students have a tendency to leave personal items unattended.

UK police say 391 thefts were reported in 2012. There were 463 reported in 2011 and 496 in 2010, according to UK police records.

"You're in an environment where people want to steal from each other," Monroe said.

Still, students say the cameras give them a sense of security.

Cullen Smith, a UK student who just completed his freshman year, said he feels safe with UK's new security.

"I really like the new measures that (the) campus is taking with security," Smith said. "I feel safer."

Charlie Bedinghaus thinks the cameras are a good measure, but he is skeptical about their ability to deter crime.

"I'd rather have them there in case something does happen than not have them there," Bedinghaus said.

Monroe said the cameras could be used for virtual patrolling in the near future. Now, when a student needs a police escort, they have to wait for an officer to show up. Virtual patrolling would allow officers to use cameras to follow a student along a predetermined path in a relatively short time period. If the officer monitoring the cameras sees something, he could provide another officer with more detailed information.

"You're able to cover so much more ground by doing these virtual patrols," Monroe said.

In addition to the security cameras, 26 emergency phones were installed across the campus. The emergency phones contain a strobe light that can be seen at night, and a speaker that can broadcast warnings.

In addition to the security cameras, UK implemented an integrated access control that allows the university to remotely lockdown an isolated building or keep it open for special events. The university also created new student identification cards containing data chips that allow students to enter certain buildings after hours. The free access will allow a student to use an academic building to work on a school project, for example.

"We're really trying to leverage technology as we go through this security project," Monroe said.

Trey Crumbie: (859) 231-1687. Twitter: @TreyCrumbieHL

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