Safety & Security (Protecting Campus Resources)

Intelligent Use of Security Cameras

While many people have unrealistic expectations of what security cameras can do to enhance campus security, it is also common for people to fail to understand some benefits they provide. One of the most important benefits of security cameras on campus is to aid in the investigation and resolution of safety and security incidents that take place. We advise campus safety officials to understand that security cameras can be used to prove that reasonable steps were taken or, conversely, that staff failed to take proper steps to prevent an incident.

Viewing security cameras as a tool to assist staff in monitoring of key areas rather than for totally replacing human supervision is important. Increasingly, security cameras are being integrated into campus emergency response planning. Many campuses now have security systems that allow campus and public safety officials to view cameras in a real-time fashion when a crisis occurs. While each of these aspects of security cameras are important, there are other benefits of security cameras that are often overlooked.

Security cameras can assist in improving other monitoring practices. While many people think in terms of security cameras as a means for staff to monitor students and visitors, they can often be more helpful tools for improving and documenting proper human prevention efforts by campus employees. While my experience has been that live monitoring is often more reliable than attempts to monitor people via security cameras, I recommend that campus officials regularly evaluate and adjust how security, law enforcement and overall campus staff monitor their areas of responsibility by using their security camera systems.

Cameras can be an excellent tool for campus administrators to use to spot-check and document that staff are properly positioned and/or patrolling different areas. For example, periodic spot checks can be used to see that reception areas are being properly staffed to prevent gaps in visitor screening. Officials can periodically spot-check multiple areas of their campuses via a security camera system and make notations in their normal documentation system, providing excellent evidence in the event of litigation. While in-person evaluation is still a good idea, using a combination of these approaches is often more effective.

Security cameras can help spot opportunities to prevent traffic incidents and make the necessary corrections. Campus traffic fatalities are often overlooked while other, less common campus safety incidents are addressed. Administrators should periodically observe peak traffic times to look for potential pedestrian/vehicle conflicts. Security cameras can often provide significantly different viewpoints than ground-level perspectives. By periodically observing the flow of students, visitors, passenger vehicles and shuttle or metro buses via different camera views, campus officials can often spot potentially dangerous practices so adjustments can be made.

Security cameras can help document proper security practices. Another utilization of campus security cameras involves spot-checking how well campus employees follow established security protocols. For example, if weapons screening is used for a special event, such as a dance, and security cameras cover the event, supervisory personnel can periodically observe security personnel to see if they are following guidelines for proper weapons screening.

Documenting the results of spot checks can help mitigate exposure to allegations of ineffective or inappropriate conduct by screening personnel. Camera footage of this type can also provide excellent visual aids for staff development sessions.

Security cameras provide clarity in situations involving false allegations. One often overlooked benefit of security cameras for higher education campuses involves their use in helping to document what did not happen. This has been extremely helpful for some institutions of higher learning. While most people realize that captured images can help prove whether or not a specific incident occurred, security camera footage can also help disprove a blatantly false narrative created by plaintiff’s counsel during litigation. There are instances where attorneys carefully craft a wildly inaccurate picture of campus life to support claims relating to various forms of victimization. This most typically occurs when sufficient facts to support a strong civil case do not exist. Properly archived video can help a qualified campus-safety expert witness better evaluate factors such as preventive patrols, campus climate and typical student and staff behavior more accurately and effectively. This can be especially important for non-public schools lacking qualified immunity from lawsuits.

Campus security cameras have other more obvious benefits, as well as limitations. I have found that many administrators are not aware of the benefits described here. Understanding these benefits of security cameras can add value to their use.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at