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RUPD delays camera rollout

By Emily Abdow     8/23/16 11:07pm

The Rice University Police Department’s plans to install security cameras on the outer perimeter of residential colleges has been delayed due to the need for feedback from students, according to Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead.

When the plans were announced in April, Whitehead said the security cameras are needed at the entrances of residential common spaces because crime statistics show the majority of crime, including thefts, trespassing and sexual assault, occurs in and around residential colleges. Cameras are currently in place around administration and academic buildings.

Later in April, Student Association President Griffin Thomas, Jones College President Chris Sabbagh and Hanszen College President Kenny Grozman met with Whitehead, Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby, Associate Vice President of Housing and Dining Mark Ditman, and Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson to express concerns regarding the camera implementation.

“In that meeting it became clear that not only more student stakeholder engagement needed to be done, but also more stakeholder engagement with the faculty needed to be done as well,” Thomas, a Lovett College senior, said.

But for one college, implementation of security cameras will be expedited. At the Student Association meeting on Monday, Lovett President Rahul Kothari said the construction fence by where the new parking garage is being built has had the effect of funneling people from the community to Lovett. In response, Kothari and the two Lovett SA senators did a walkthrough of Lovett with Chief Whitehead to determine the placement of the cameras.

“If we do choose to move forward with [the implementation]. We’ll pilot the security cameras and how it works,” Kothari, a senior said.

On Monday, Thomas sent an email to the SA listserv with the draft security camera policy along with a Google form for student feedback. According to Thomas, feedback will be collected through next Wednesday. Then, a group of senators and presidents will write and introduce a resolution based on the student feedback to the SA Senate. If passed, the resolution will be sent to the administration and serve as the official SA response.

The current draft policy classifies all information acquired from security camera use as confidential, limits camera ranges and capabilities including “zooming” and requires recordings to be stored for 30 to 60 days. In addition, the policy mandates that operators of cameras will be trained in cultural/diversity awareness and prohibits secondary recording of video feeds. The cameras will not be monitored live, but recordings will be accessed as necessary depending on any crimes that may occur on campus that could have been captured by the video.

Groszman addressed student concerns at the SA meeting by emphasizing where the cameras would and would not be placed.

“There’s not going to be any cameras in the hallways to your dorm, there’s not going to be any in your room,” Groszman, a senior, said. “It’s really just the boundaries of commons spaces and those heavily traveled areas where if there was a crime they would be able to look at that particular door and the people coming in and out.”

Sabbagh said he feels security cameras would prove valuable in allowing RUPD to identify suspicious individuals who try to come on campus, but also noted concerns about student privacy.

“I think this is a very nuanced issue,” Sabbagh, a senior, said. “I would like to hear more from students before finalizing my stance.”

Thomas also emphasized the importance of receiving student feedback.

“While the beginning of the semester is always a bit tumultuous for students, it’s really important that we get some good feedback on this because this will be the policy on the books for years to come,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure that it’s something that students and administrators are comfortable with and that it adequately reflects all of our concerns.”

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