There are 268 video surveillance cameras around campus.
Whether you are buying food at The Avenue, purchasing pens at the University Store, kicking a ball around at the turf fields or working out in the Recreation Center, there is a video camera recording you.
The cameras exist as a tool to deter crime and help with investigations, not to monitor daily activity, University Police Department (UPD) Chief of Police George Hughes said. Cameras help identify suspects and video evidence is a good tool to use when prosecuting a crime, he said.
“I think one of the reasons why we have such a low crime rate here is we have good people and a good student body and campus population,” Hughes said. “Video cameras are a part of the crime prevention program that helps us enjoy such a low crime rate.”
UPD only owns and operates one mobile camera because of the expenses to purchase and manage them, Hughes said. However, using video footage is one of the first investigative steps when an incident occurs.
Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) owns and operates 24 of the 268 cameras, all of which are in the Recreation Center.
Most of the cameras are located at the entrances and exits throughout the Recreation Center, University Union Advisory Board Chair Haley Houle said. Cameras are also in places where staff isn’t always present, such as around corners and the pool deck, she said.
“The main purpose for all of our cameras are for incidents,” Houle said. “We are not viewing footage on a day-to-day basis.”
Houle said the UPD and specific IT coordinators have access to the footage which is only stored for seven days. The footage is only viewed when an incident is reported, which is not often, Houle said.
When an unidentified man allegedly entered the Recreation Center and took photos of women working out in September 2012, the video surveillance data was unretrievable because of a glitch. However, none of the cameras are pointed toward weight rooms where the incident occurred.
In that scenario, the University Police Department was informed a day after the incident which made it difficult to investigate.
“I think it’s important to know that if something happens, we have footage and I encourage people to report incidents,” Houle said. “ASI is looking out for what is best for the students.”
That leaves the ownership of the other 243 cameras to the Cal Poly Corporation.
Cal Poly Corporation maintains approximately 150 cameras in its various facilities and another approximately 90 cameras for various campus departments by contract, Cal Poly Corporation Public Relations and Marketing Manager Yukie Nishinaga wrote in an email. All of the cameras are recording 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she wrote.
The cameras are located in the Corporation’s operations and facilities, such as Campus Dining or the University Store, and can be seen in plain sight at any of the facilities, Nishinaga wrote. The Cal Poly Corporation cameras are used for reducing and catching theft, returning personal property and monitoring Cal Poly Corporation businesses.
“Cameras are also an effective tool for providing customer service,” Nishinaga wrote. “If a customer is observed to be having trouble finding what they are looking for or if there is a need for more employees to handle a rush, the camera operator can call for additional staffing resources to help as available.”
While Cal Poly Corporation employs a security staff to operate the surveillance cameras and maintain confidentiality, the UPD dispatchers have access to view the live video feed if the call for service is recorded by a surveillance camera, Nishinaga wrote.
Cal Poly Corporation has owned and operated surveillance cameras for almost 20 years and the need to add or remove video cameras changes with needs and technology, Nishinaga wrote.
Architecture freshman Nick Dennis said video camera presence does not bother freshmen, and he’s glad to know cameras are used in investigations. However, he said he has never felt unsafe and the cameras don’t make him feel any safer.
“More than safer, it kind of makes me feel nervous,” he said. “Not that I’m going to steal stuff, but that one misunderstanding, I don’t know.”
While the majority of the cameras are owned by Cal Poly Corporation, a private entity, the California State University (CSU) does not have any explicit rules regarding the use of surveillance cameras on campus, according to a CSU spokesperson.
Having video cameras recording in any type of place is very common, Hughes said. It may sound like the university has a lot of cameras, but it’s all very relative to the number of buildings on campus and in open space, he said.
“If someone is thinking about committing a crime and knows there are 268 cameras, it can be a deterrent,” Hughes said. “We can’t have a camera everywhere and we can’t have a police officer everywhere and I really do push taking personal responsibility for your safety.”