Cameras monitor U parking lots, research areas

The University has 609 security cameras on its Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.

by Kevin Behr

In an age when security cameras are everywhere, the University is no slouch when it comes to video surveillance.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, between one and three attendants at the Department of Central Security monitor 609 cameras on the University’s Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, said Operations Supervisor Steve Frisk.

About 440 cameras are in parking ramps, garages and lots, he said. The rest are predominantly in places where the University conducts potentially controversial research, such as the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building on Washington Avenue Southeast, Frisk said.

Privacy concerns are nonexistent, he said, because the cameras are not intentionally hidden or used covertly.

“The cameras monitor public areas where anyone can see what’s going on,” Frisk said. “Generally speaking, you can put a camera anywhere you can have a set of eyes.”

Frisk said many buildings on or near campus have “stand-alone” systems that are not monitored by Central Security.

These buildings include Ferguson Hall, residence halls and many private businesses near campus, said Steve Johnson, University police deputy chief.

Police encourage those monitoring stand-alone systems to call 911 whenever they see a suspicious person or problem, he said.

Alissa Hoyme, a post-secondary student studying linguistics, called the cameras “a necessary evil.”

“I don’t like being watched,” she said, “but the cameras were probably put in for a reason.”

Both Central Security and University police said the security cameras provide an excellent service.

Greg Hestness, University police chief, said the cameras do three things in the fight against crime.

First, they can help police stop crime in progress. If suspicious activity is caught on camera, monitoring personnel call police, Frisk said.

Hestness said, “If you can see a crime in progress and get someone out there to stop and prevent it, that’s the best.”

Another function of the security cameras is deterrence.

Johnson said the very presence of a camera could prevent crime.

“They can be preventative if people are aware,” he said. “They don’t want to commit a crime on camera.”

Cameras have helped reduce crime on campus since they were introduced in the 1990s, Frisk said.

The University’s surveillance system also helps solve crime cases.

Johnson said the cameras are “extremely helpful” in identifying suspects and leading to arrests.

One example was the arrest of Matthew Pengra in July. Pengra allegedly sexually assaulted a female after he followed her into the University Village apartment building. Security cameras caught the entire act and provided good footage of the suspect, Johnson said. After the images were aired on television, police received numerous tips and eventually arrested Pengra, he said.

Another example of the cameras’ usefulness occurred in the Wildcat Lot of the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex.

Three people were caught on camera breaking into cars numerous times, Frisk said. Police used the tapes to

identify and apprehend the suspects. Once the suspects were arrested, the number of cars broken into dropped

significantly, he said.

“People will always be breaking into cars,” he said. “What you can do is put cameras where you feel there is a threat, and if something happens, try to use them to catch somebody.”

First-year engineering student Mark Dille criticized the usefulness of the cameras.

“If somebody got robbed right here,” he said, pointing to a camera in Coffman Union, “What’s gonna happen? Nothing.”

Dille admitted the cameras can help identify suspects later, but said they can’t really help the immediate situation.