CCTV Cameras on campus are catching crime

Closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras are recording activity on a 24-hour basis on every campus at Santa Monica College. The cameras have assisted with catching criminal activity in cases dating as recently as last Wednesday, February 23. The first cameras were set up 20 years ago following an incident involving a student entering the bookstore with a handgun.

The camera collection has accumulated over the years and now totals up to 300 cameras district-wide, according to SMC Police Officer Ruben Cadena.

"Although it may seem like a lot, it really isn't. Your average department store houses approximately 100 to 200 cameras," Cadena said.

"Every camera is placed with safety and privacy in mind," he added.

Cadena described the surveillance system's purpose to have three main components: deterring future crime, monitoring for crime and case investigation.

"SMC greatly benefits from the CCTV system. I believe a good deal of the campus' sense of safety is due to the camera system," said Cadena.

"In a sense it all comes down to safety," added SMC Police Sgt. Jere Romano.

Romano explained that one form of unwelcome visitor they are keeping an eye out for are "office creepers." Office creepers are thieves who covertly enter work areas to steal valuable equipment.A recent situation occurred where the cameras assisted in the arrest of such a felon.

On Feb. 17, an individual entered an office and stole a wallet. His entrance into the building was captured on a CCTV camera.

This footage in combination with an eyewitness report led to the identification of the suspect and his arrest last Wednesday.

During the first week of school on 17th St. and Pico behind A & R Textbooks, there was another crime caught on camera. A domestic violence situation ensued where a male assaulted his girlfriend and a motorist notified the SMC police. At that time, an officer monitoring the CCTV cameras was able to zoom in and direct officers with a description of the suspect and scene.

Romano believes CCTV cameras provide a clear advantage. "Those that can have access to it in a time when it is really needed are removed from the incident, they don't feel the danger. They can actually focus on what they are doing and try to capture as much information as they can to give to units in the field."

If and when a crime is captured on film, the police respond promptly by raising awareness of the incident through bulletins and notices, as explained by Facilities Manager Greg Brown.

Brown said, "If we can educate people with awareness then similar incidents may be avoided."

Depending on circumstances, police may respond with an increase in patrol and the footage archived for investigation.

Although the cost of the entire CCTV system was not determined, the dispatch center's recent renovation from analog to digital system was roughly $500,000, according to Brown.

The cameras exact placement choices could not be disclosed at this time for security reasons. Brown did state, though, that they are not placed in all classrooms because "Faculty and students feel uncomfortable about being observed during the instructional process."

Sgt. Romano addressed one assumption surrounding surveillance cameras, "People try to take the negative connotation that it's just about guilt. The cameras can be a safe guard to prove someone of innocence. It's about innocence too," he said.