Champaign may add new security cameras to campus

By Angelica Lavito

Four University security cameras will likely be added to the intersection of Sixth and John streets after the Champaign City Council voted 7-2 in favor of the plan at an Aug. 12 study session.

The University has more than 1,000 security cameras installed across campus to help solve crimes. Because the newest additions are located on city property, the Champaign City Council is required to approve the measure.

“[Security cameras are] helpful in a public safety aspect in that they assist us with solving crimes and identifying offenders,” said University Police Chief Jeff Christensen.

University police worked with the Champaign and Urbana police departments to identify areas where adding security cameras could be effective.

They concluded that the Green Street Corridor (Neil Street to Wright Street), Sixth Street from Green Street to John Street and the corner of Fourth Street and Springfield Avenue would benefit from security cameras. These recommendations are based on areas that have higher amounts of criminal activity, as well as high vehicle and pedestrian traffic, according to the study session report.

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“I don’t think [adding more security cameras] is important; the University does and all of the policing agents do,” said council member Michael LaDue, District 2. “I think it’s distasteful, but I think people staggering around getting assaulted, or pistol whipped, or robbed, or sexually assaulted is vastly more offensive than that they be in the vicinity of a camera that might serve as a deterrent.”

The University installed its first 13 cameras in 2008 and has added more each year. Tom Bruno, at-large city council member, voted against the measure to push back on the growing presence of cameras.

“There needs to be limits,” Bruno said. “When asked for city’s cooperation to add to the stockpile of the number of video cameras they have, I didn’t think we ought to help in that effort to put cameras in every nook and cranny of an American university campus.”

Christensen said the security camera footage is not regularly monitored but is reviewed when an incident occurs. The University’s security camera policy states that recordings will be retained for a period of no less than 30 days and no longer than 120 days.

“I believe them when they say they use the policies, but the reality is that I also believe that humans will be humans,” said council member Marci Dodds, District 4, who also voted against the measure. “There’s a lot of power in that information. Will that policy stop somebody who wants to misuse that power?”

Although the cameras are not regularly monitored, they can be used to monitor large-scale events such as Unofficial. Dodds said she was hesitant when she learned the cameras on Sixth and John streets could be used to monitor protests in front of Swanlund Administration Building.

“Now we’re trotting on civil liberties,” Dodds said. “That’s not a crime anymore. That’s not solving a crime anymore. That’s suppressing dissent. That’s making people afraid to have dissent and express their views publicly.”

LaDue said police are likely already monitoring protests, but he doesn’t think that should deter support for the measure. Although he doesn’t like the idea of security cameras, he said we live in a “brave new world” of technology.

“With the right monitoring and dialogue with the University and policing agencies, we can manage it to most people’s satisfaction while assuring most level of safety for people in this area,” LaDue said, “as we make for a more cosmopolitan campus of people from all over the world who don’t want to be victims.”

The vote from the study session gives city staff direction as it continues working on the project. An official vote will be taken at a later regular meeting.

Angelica can be reached at [email protected].