The Rice University Police Department is planning to begin a test run of security cameras at Lovett College and is set to fully implement a campus-wide security camera initiative as early as this winter.
Lovett College President Rahul Kothari attributed Lovett’s decision to quicken the process of implementing the cameras to rising concerns related to exposure to Main Street and construction. Kothari clarified that students had requested for the camera installation to be moved to an earlier date, validated and further supported by a favorable vote at Central Committee, Lovett’s student government organization.
“Many students felt that the presence of cameras would increase safety at the college and help RUPD in catching and putting away trespassers,” Kothari, a senior, said.
Lovett is located on the outskirts of Rice and is closest in proximity to the city of Houston at-large. the parking garage construction blocking off a large portion of campus along Main Street, traffic into that side of Rice is funneled through Entrance 3, adjacent to Lovett. As a result, there have been multiple incidents of non-Rice affiliated people entering the premises, which has been an area of concern to many students.
“Colleges and universities have increasingly embraced the use of electronic security systems and security technology to enhance campus safety,” RUPD Chief Johnny Whitehead said. “These systems, when properly integrated into a comprehensive physical security program, can effectively strengthen protection by supplementing police, security personnel and others in the security role. This past April, security cameras helped police identify the man who killed a student at the University of Texas, Austin.”
Resolution 2, “Student Feedback on the Policy for Implementation of Security Cameras on Campus,” which details this newly introduced security policy, is awaiting a vote in the Student Association Senate in two weeks. According to Whitehead, RUPD postponed implementation so that the SA could review the plan and offer feedback; RUPD then received a request from the Lovett leadership to consider launching the pilot project in their college while the SA continued to discuss the issue.
In interviews, some students have voiced concerns about the cameras, raising issues including privacy violations, a lack of awareness regarding who views the footage, what the footage may be used for and a general loss of Rice’s cultural sovereignty. Though questions of where the security cameras are needed and in what circumstances they should be utilized persist, others support the plan.
“[Kothari] is making sure at Central Committee meetings that everybody has a say in how [security cameras] will be implemented,” Lovett freshman Mira Dani said. “In general, it will just help everyone feel safer, obviously, and be safer. He is making a really active effort in making sure everybody’s concerns are dealt with. I have not heard of anyone yet having an issue with privacy because [RUPD] showed us the diagrams of how they want to put the cameras, and we can figure out from there what additional concerns we have.”
“The security cameras were a necessary precaution considering the scares [Lovett] recently had with people coming inside behind students when they open the door,” Lovett New Student Representative Rose Kantorczyk said. “It was really important for all of CC and all of Lovett in getting student input and making sure that no one felt the cameras were there to catch them drinking and such.”
Recently, cameras established at Lovett’s extension building have been removed due to student concerns of privacy and inutility, which Kantorczyk said was an example of Rice authorities valuing student input. According to Kothari, RUPD worked closely with Lovett’s student leadership and the Central Committee to choose appropriate locations for the cameras.
“Members of RUPD, Housing and Dining, [Information Technology] and the Lovett College leadership toured Lovett College and came up with camera locations,” Whitehead said. “We found this approach effective and plan to use it with other colleges. We are waiting for the design work and cost estimates to move forward.”
In particular, there has been an effort to strike a balance between security and privacy. Whitehead clarified that RUPD will not be constantly monitoring the security cameras, with their only goals being to maximize safety and solve any crimes that take place.
“We were happy to see how much respect [RUPD] had for student privacy throughout this process,” Kothari said.
This article was edited to clarify that the implementation of security cameras at Lovett has not yet begun. The headline was also edited; in its original version, it incorrectly asserted that RUPD is beginning the camera pilot now.