Suggested increase of security cameras prompts privacy concerns

The Campus Personal Safety Committee is discussing the possibility of increasing security camera usage across the campus. Currently, cameras are installed when the University Police Department believes there is a need for them, such as after a swastika was drawn on the gazebo. (Annalee Bainnson/Assoc. Photo Editor)

The Campus Personal Safety Committee is looking to install more cameras across Geneseo to improve security. Students and faculty are concerned about the impact such an initiative will have on campus life. 

The implementation of increased cameras has repeatedly been discussed during committee meetings, according to University Police Chief Thomas Kilcullen. The college currently deploys multiple overt and covert surveillance cameras, according to the Campus Personal Safety Committee Surveillance Camera Audit for 2015-16. Kilcullen said that the department has four covert cameras and does not deploy overt cameras. 

The University Police Department places cameras around campus on an ad-hoc basis when they are believed to help solve a case or in response to an individual’s expressed safety concern. Depending on the nature of the case, UPD will decide to alert the public through signage that a camera is present unless they deem conducting a covert operation is necessary. 

UPD has used cameras in the past to protect individuals from being victimized and in bias or hate related circumstances, Kilcullen said. After a swastika was drawn on the gazebo, for example, UPD placed a camera nearby the structure in hopes of catching the offender. 

Cameras were also used in Niagara Hall during the 2014-15 academic year after an individual pulled a fire alarm when there was no emergency. The Campus Personal Safety Committee has asked to use cameras due to the damage and theft from vending machines as well.

Kilcullen believes that if cameras were permanently placed around campus, they could aid in the department’s criminal investigations by documenting the exact time in which an incident occurred. Additionally, Kilcullen said that permanent cameras would deter crime on campus—citing SUNY Cortland as a campus where cameras have been effective in this regard—in addition to providing more eyes around the college. 

“For the police department, it’s a force multiplier,” Kilcullen said. “You have more eyes out within the community, and the cameras don’t take a day off or a vacation. You can’t expect a human to work 24/7, 365 days a year, so I see a lot of benefits.”  

Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Community Leonard Sancilio said that he believes the college has not prioritized the issue of security cameras in the past due to the campus’s safe environment.

“Because we’re a small liberal arts college and because of the community we’ve established, the need for cameras was never seen to be that important,” Sancilio said. “And I say that because we’re one of the last, if not the last, campuses that armed their police. So I think that there’s just that historical culture of Geneseo being that safe community where certain things aren’t needed.”

Student Association President senior Michael Baranowski is unsure how effective increased cameras on campus would be in preventing individuals from committing crimes. In addition, Baranowski is concerned about the balance between maintaining student privacy and keeping the campus safe.  

“We should be able to walk around campus not worrying that someone’s going to be watching our every move, and we should feel free to act as individuals,” Baranowski said. “At the same time, with this rise in bias related incidents, is it more protective for the students to have these cameras up? I would say yes.”

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio is concerned about the potential implications that would arise if the college increased its camera usage. 

“It’s my personal opinion that community is a very strong value here, and communities are built when trust exists,” Bonfiglio said. “I’m not sure whether or not the presence of cameras on campus would impede the development of trust or not.”

Bonfiglio added that Geneseo wants to build socially responsible students and he hopes students feel comfortable coming forward and alerting the administration and UPD if they see something suspicious. Physics major sophomore Kaila McKiernan said that some students may not feel comfortable reporting on their peers, and the use of cameras could be an effective alternative method for gathering information.

“In an ideal world, people would report what they see, but a lot of the time if it’s one of their fellow students, peers or someone they know, they might feel uncomfortable going to the police, and that’s where these cameras can help,” McKiernan said.