Cameras prove key in arrest of vandalism suspect

Beginning March 16, six waves of vandalism were committed against the “Beyond the Chief” art exhibit in front of cultural houses along Nevada Avenue in Urbana. On June 13, a seventh crime was committed. But this one was different.

It differed because, unlike the previous six cases, a suspect was identified on camera and arrested.

The use of security cameras to apprehend a suspect guilty of vandalism and theft showed how such a device can be used effectively, according to University Chief of Police Barbara O’Connor.

“The use of the cameras in that area was the most cost-effective way to apprehend the offender, and our recent success I think sort of proves that,” O’Connor said.

The University Senate Executive Committee (SEC) has been examining how to revamp and better the rules surrounding the use of security cameras on campus. According to SEC chair Nick Burbules, the discussion is now as important as ever.

“I think the events at the Native American House … may very well spark a larger discussion, which is a discussion that I think is worth having on this campus,” Burbules said.

While security cameras could be used in many places, neither Burbules nor O’Connor is in favor of using them arbitrarily or indiscriminately, citing privacy as an issue. Both consider security cameras successful when they balance privacy with safety and security.

“I think from a security perspective, you evaluate the risk to the community,” O’Connor said.

“Are crimes occurring there? Are they an anomaly, or is it happening with some relative frequency? You couldn’t put a camera everywhere to cover everything, it just doesn’t make sense.”

The vandalism around the Native American House in particular warranted the installation of cameras, as opposed to putting them in front of other houses. But on a campus where cameras are relatively few and far between, Native American House director Dr. Robert Warrior described a somewhat prolonged process of getting them.

“Robin Kaler, I know, has reported to the press that we were opposed to putting up cameras,” Warrior said. “I initially expressed opposition to putting up cameras without being able to talk to members of my faculty about it. Once I had done that, then we certainly supported the idea.

“It was several weeks … and at least a couple more reported incidents of vandalism before the chancellor raised the issue again.”

However, Warrior was satisfied with the end result, as the cameras did catch a suspect.

The ongoing discussion in the SEC surrounding the use of cameras also focuses on what they can be used for once installed.

In the past few weeks, the discussion regarding cameras has focused on specific scenarios and what cameras could or could not be used for in those situations.

“I think the important thing is to have policies for where these cameras can go and what the information that’s gathered can be used for,” Burbules said. “It needs to be very clear-cut.”

Burbules cited that progress has been made, with multiple committees having examined the issue. Currently, the University Police Department uses its discretion for the placement of cameras. And while the cameras’ use must be carefully considered, O’Connor has found them to be beneficial.

“I think from a police perspective, cameras in my experience … have proven to be a very effective crime-prevention tool,” O’Connor said.

“And what people often misunderstand about cameras is their mere presence doesn’t necessarily deter crime. People may not even know that the camera exists. Where you get the deterrent effect is over a period of time, you increase your apprehension rate.”