Security cameras could play a roll in identifying the perpetrators of swastika drawings found across campus in the past week, highlighting the growing importance of digital surveillance on college campuses.
The University Police Department is reviewing security camera footage for the swastika drawn early this week in Potomac House, UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said.
The University uses closed circuit television systems that can be placed anywhere within the more than 170 acres of GW-owned, controlled and leased properties in the District and Virginia, according to UPD official policy.
“We have a significant number of cameras on campus – they are generally used to monitor or track what is happening in various targeted areas, such as garages, residence halls and other areas on campus that require additional security measures,” Stafford said.
For security reasons, Stafford could not provide The Hatchet with an official number of security cameras.
The Hatchet has counted a combined total of almost 100 security cameras in Thurston Hall and New Hall, which are two of the largest residence halls at GW. A 2002 Hatchet investigation revealed the Marvin Center contains more than 100 digital security cameras.
Local schools also use cameras in patrolling their campuses. American uses about 85 cameras to uphold security on its 85-acre campus and has plans to upgrade its own security systems.
AU Director of Public Safety Michael McNair said these cameras help the university better monitor security on campus.
“An additional set of eyes out there on campus . is very reliable and extremely effective in patrolling the campus,” he said.
Georgetown, which occupies more than 100 acres, recently finished improving its own surveillance system.
“This summer we completed an upgrade of the Department of Public Safety’s communications center, equipping it with video monitors and state-of-the-art equipment to better monitor security and cameras throughout campus,” said Julie Green Bataille, a spokesperson for Georgetown.
Bataille could not give an exact number of cameras but said GU has added more cameras in recent years to more effectively address crime on university property.
The line between campus security and student privacy remains to be drawn.
Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for the National Capital Area, said the widespread use of cameras throughout campuses is a “tremendous overreaction to people’s fears.”
“Privacy is a valuable part of what we have as Americans, and when surveillance cameras are placed everywhere but the bathroom, it’s unjustified,” he said.
Spitzer said he could understand the placement of surveillance cameras in more justified areas, such as around ATMs, but that anywhere else does nothing more than give students a “false sense of security.”
Alexine Zacarias, a freshman living in Thurston Hall, said she feels strange even doing her laundry knowing that there are four cameras on her floor that monitor her every movement.
“I would understand maybe one camera right outside of the elevators, but four cameras on every floor is a little extreme and not really necessary,” Zacarias said.
There is a debate as to whether the surveillance actually deters crime.
In September, security cameras helped identify a male youth who committed several burglaries in Ivory Tower and New Hall.
While Stafford said that the security cameras have produced more successful security measures on campus, Spitzer said installing more cameras on campus is not a solution for stopping crime at GW.
“Cameras are notoriously ineffective for preventing crime and catching criminals,” he said.
He added, “If I were the president of GW, I would not be putting surveillance cameras all across campus, let alone in dormitories.”