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Campus security cameras in need of replacement

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Two security cameras watch over a section of the Salem campus. Nearly one-third of the cameras on campus are currently nonfunctional. Photo by Saul Rodriguez

By Amanda Fazzio

It’s no surprise that our campus has security cameras virtually everywhere. As a public institution, with major road access and busses that stop directly on campus, opportunities certainly exist for those with criminal intentions. The college is charged with protecting students, staff, and faculty from those who would prey on us. Given the low number of known crimes listed in the college’s 2015 Annual Campus Security Report, it seems that they’re succeeding. However, the statistics in that report may not be telling the whole story.

One of the ways that Chemeketa’s Department of Public Safety helps to protect us is through the use of security cameras. Cameras are in the bookstore, in the parking lots, and in many common areas around campus.  However, there is still crime here on campus. Between 2013 and 2015, there were two instances of “Groping,” two instances of “Liquor Law Violations” and 10 instances of “Motor Vehicle Theft” on the Salem campus.

The problem with these cameras is that almost a third of them don’t work. While the college is working on remedying this situation, the pace at which they’re being fixed or replaced might not be quick enough to help deter the crimes they’re intended to deter.

The front desk of the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Kevin Smith

Larry Indra, an access control technician for the Department of Public Safety, explained that 49 out of 160 of the cameras on campus are not currently operational. Indra said that the average camera has a lifespan of approximately five years and the cost of a new camera can range from $400 to $3,000, depending on what lens and accessory options a location requires. This perhaps explains why the cameras are not being replaced as rapidly as many in our community would expect.

“We started putting these cameras in about eight years ago, and the technology has changed dramatically since then, so some of these cameras are old and not working,” Bill Kohlmeyer, the director of public safety, said. He said that the old cameras, even when functional, use more bandwidth than the new cameras, and by using more bandwidth, the camera system slows down other college systems.

While the task of replacing the failing cameras is important, there are two major reasons for the lack of repair and maintenance. Indra said that one of the major reasons that the downed cameras around campus haven’t been repaired or replaced is that “we don’t have, at this time, a maintenance program to maintain the cameras and go out and do service calls on them… The college waits until they fail, or we have multiple issues, and then we’ll take a look at the camera and if it needs replacing, we’ll replace it.”

The second reason for the lack of maintenance and repair is simple: it’s expensive. “It comes down to budget and money,” Indra said.

Tim Rogers, the college’s associate vice president of college support services, said that while the college is doing as much as it can to remedy the situation, the cost is a limiting factor. “Basically, where we are headed from a financial perspective, is the camera equipment – a lot of it that’s failing is old,” he said. “In terms of spending money to maintain it, what that would be would be to make repairs to that equipment. Where what we’ve noticed is over the last couple of years, probably the last five years especially, the technology has really improved. So, to spend that amount of money into an old system, versus to put it into one of the newer systems that’s more capable…We would prefer to just wholesale replace the downed camera and put it onto a new system.

“The College’s intent is to fund replacing cameras with the new technology, which is about the same cost as replacing the old technology, he said. “Now the difference is, we are doing these in a priority list. There’s a college committee that kind of looks at this and Bill [Kohlmeyer] is on it, where they’re prioritizing all the different cameras we have.”

While security cameras can become nonfunctional due to age and operating conditions, sometimes Chemeketa’s ever changing landscape can also cause unexpected problems. “Sometimes over the years you find that you put a camera and the college changes and you’re taking beautiful pictures of trees,” Rogers said.

According to Indra, downed cameras have hindered investigations before. “We have had some car break ins and we were unable to see what happened so we couldn’t get a description of the person who committed the break in because the cameras were down due to them being beyond their lifespan,” he said.

The Umpqua shooting last year changed the way that colleges look at their security. After that tragic event, Indra was asked to perform an audit of the camera system at Chemeketa. “After Umpqua, the college got together and reviewed our security and our cameras,” he said. “As part of my job I went and did a complete audit of all the cameras and turned in a report stating what cameras were dead or at the end of their life and they were wanting to move forward with replacing them, but the college is trying to find the funding to replace those cameras because that is a big concern.”

Amanda Fazzio is also a student worker for the Department of Public Safety.