Expansion of security camera software stalls

The Twin Cities campus has more than 1,200 security cameras.

The University of Minnesota campus is saturated with video surveillance âÄî its technological capabilities have been growing steadily since the late 1980s. However, the current economic climate has brought an innovative surveillance program to a standstill. In August 2007, the University conditionally installed behavioral recognition software called Perceptrak in surveillance cameras on the Washington Avenue Bridge meant to prevent crime and suicide. If successful, the plan was to expand the software to parking ramps and research facilities. Since its inception, the software has shown potential for becoming a proactive way to detect incidents potentially before they occur, said Wayne LaMusga, Department of Central Security information technology specialist. But despite the softwareâÄôs promising performance, DCSâÄôs plan to add additional cameras to the Twin Cities campus has stalled due to âÄúprohibitively high costs.âÄù The system will continue to function on the bridge.

The system

Perceptrak can recognize up to 10 suspicious human behaviors, such as people lurking, loitering or dropping an item. Monitoring personnel can decide which behaviors to seek out, Steve Graham, president of Cernium Corp., which produces Perceptrak, said. When detected, it alerts staff in DCSâÄôs monitoring center, who may alert police if an incident requires law enforcement. More than 14 other universities around the country, most of which are located in larger cities, use Perceptrak software in some of their cameras, Graham said. âÄúPerceptrak software offers the unique ability to be proactive in preventing crime, not reactive,âÄù Graham said. âÄúItâÄôs like having additional law enforcement watching the campus.âÄù The software runs around $400 per camera, plus a $200 encoder to convert the UniversityâÄôs standard analog cable connection to a digital feed, Graham said. Without purchasing encoders, millions of dollars would have to be spent converting analog coaxial wiring to digital IP feed, LaMusga said.

Cameras on campus

At least two DCS employees are on staff 24 hours per day to view more than 900 cameras throughout the Twin Cities campus and hundreds more from coordinate campuses and research facilities as well, University Services spokesman Tim Busse said. About 300 more cameras are coming online this year with the addition of cameras in TCF Bank Stadium and the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, Busse said. The University provided approximately $1.3 million to DCS for system wide projects in card access, alarm, video surveillance and emergency communication systems in the 2009 fiscal year, Department of Public Safety director of finance Mark Cox said in an e-mail. Of that money, $400,000 to $500,000 went to the purchasing, installation and maintenance of video surveillance, Cox estimated. More than 500 of the campus cameras keep watch over parking lots, ramps and garages, Parking and Transportation Services spokeswoman Jacqueline Brudlos said.

Feed me

Police have praised on campus cameras as visual deterrents to crime. The University has used surveillance footage as evidence to prosecute criminals caught on tape, but only occasionally captures crimes in action, Busse said. Attempting to scour such a copious volume of live video feeds can be impractical, and in most cases makes effective monitoring impossible, University associate professor of psychology Yuhong Jiang said. âÄúIf there are 1,200 monitors, itâÄôs certainly impossible for the human brain to handle [viewing] them all or even more than one stream at the same time,âÄù Jiang said. ThatâÄôs how Perceptrak can potentially be useful by helping DCS employees decide what to look for, Graham said. University police feel that while cameras may have limitations, their presence improves the safety of campus. âÄúThere are no problems with the cameras,âÄù University Police Lt. Troy Buhta said. âÄúThey give us more eyes on campus and more ways to prosecute criminals.âÄù Only four entities may request surveillance footage for review: Offices of the General Council, Internal Audit, Human Resources and University police, Jorgenson said

Coffman Union Bookstore

While attending the University as a first year student last fall, former Gophers hockey player Michael Dorr had his U Card taken from his Territorial Hall dorm room. The three men who took the card used it to purchase more than $600 worth of textbooks and electronics from the Coffman Union Bookstore, Dorr said. With the help of the bookstoreâÄôs surveillance footage, Dorr was able to prove the charges fraudulent and had his money refunded, he said. In a stroke of luck, a member of the bookstoreâÄôs student security staff recognized the men responsible while browsing Facebook, and video of the incident was used to prosecute them, Dorr said. Unlike most of campus, the cameras in University bookstores are not monitored by DCS. The bookstore employs its own staff to monitor video feeds, and works independently to provide footage to University police âÄî much like Parking and Transportation Services does with video footage captured on its buses. âÄúCameras in the Coffman Bookstore in particular have been very effective in catching and identifying criminals,âÄù Buhta said. âÄúas well as acting as visual deterrents âĦ We captured video [of DorrâÄôs forgery suspects] and were able to use the footage to prosecute them.âÄù University Bookstore director Bob Crabb would not speak on security issues, and would not confirm that if proven fraudulent, students would be reimbursed for false purchases made with their U Cards.

TWO KINDS OF CAMERAS WATCHING âÄòUâÄô

Fixed: Usually placed by entrances to buildings and in hallways. If well placed, they can effectively function as evidence in criminal prosecution. If poorly placed, they can be difficult to use, Buhta said. These cameras often have problems identifying images in their peripheral views, which often come out blurry and unusable for prosecution. These make up the majority of cameras in University parking ramps. Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ): Pan Tilt Zoom cameras are usually placed in open areas and are able to be controlled, directed and zoomed in to target far away images. Used by Minneapolis police to watch crime hotspots throughout the city, the feeds go back to an officer at the precinct desk. Six of these cameras monitor Cedar Avenue South near the West Bank campus. âÄúSome have identified a license plate from a block away,âÄù Minneapolis police 1st Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Luther Krueger said. If utilized during an incident, they can effectively function as evidence in criminal prosecution.