Somebody’s watching you

chief2.bbRemember last year’s slaying of the University of Miami’s beloved campus crocodile?

A police camera mounted on the Flipse building captured the license plate number of the getaway car, which eventually led to an arrest.

Earlier this semester, another police camera near the Ring Theater spotted two men trying to hotwire a motorcycle.

Though the suspects got away, their pictures were quickly sent to officers around campus. This helped clear a student who police had stopped at gunpoint because he was wearing clothing similar to the suspects.

The University of Miami Police Department is currently monitoring more than 200 closed-circuit cameras across campus. The cameras have helped solve 14 crimes in the past six months, said Chief of Police David Rivero.

“It’s amazing how many cases they help us with,” Rivero said.

With only 25 officers to patrol the 230-acre campus, the cameras serve as a “force multiplier.” They enable officers to patrol two or more areas at one time.

Rivero explained how an officer can sit in the Mahoney Pearson parking lot patrolling the region while simultaneously monitoring the parking lot outside Alex Rodriguez Field on his or her lap top where the feed from the camera streams on a server.

Junior India Stanton was surprised to find that UM has so many cameras on campus.

“I don’t even see them,” Stanton said. “I’m fine with them as long as they’re not in my room. If there was a situation where a crime happened, I’d rather them have surveillance.”

The current camera system has not always been so extensive or effective.

“When I started three years ago, I realized we were having crimes with cameras all around, but we weren’t capturing anything,” Rivero said . “The system was dysfunctional.”

A year and a half ago, Rivero began the process of revamping the camera system by analyzing a crime map and installing new cameras in high-risk areas, as well as replacing old cameras with high-definition cameras.

An additional objective of the overhaul was to integrate all cameras on campus, as most academic buildings at the time operated their own private camera systems. Now all new buildings must have their cameras approved by UMPD.

“It was a costly project,” said Rivero of the two-million-dollar overall price.

However, he believes the system was worth every penny.

“Ours is better than the Heat’s,” said Rivero of the American Airlines Arena’s camera system in downtown Miami.

Rivero believes that the “On SSI” software is the element that sets UM apart.

“We bought the best. We’re the leading edge,” he said.

The software enables an officer to set parameters for the camera lens. If any movement is detected within those parameters, the police are notified.

“Chief Rivero has selected the newest and greatest in video systems for the Gables campus. Absolutely amazing stuff and very functional,” said Tony Artip, the executive director of public safety at UM’s Miller School of Medicine.

Rivero modeled his camera revamp after the med school’s advanced 500-camera system.

Actively monitoring more than 200 cameras proves impractical for most officers who must patrol campus, respond to dispatch calls, track equipment and file reports.

The cameras are primarily used as a means of catching criminals after they commit the crime. Rivero, however, wants to change that.

He’s planning a $200,000 UMPD station expansion that he hopes will be underway within the year. With the additional space, he intends on installing a control room of camera monitors.

“[It would be] like in the casinos,” he said.

Rivero would pay students $10 an hour to watch the cameras in an effort to spot suspicious activity and alert officers before crimes happen.

“I want to catch them in the act,” Rivero said. “I’d rather not have any crimes than catch a bad guy. We’re all about preventing them [criminals] from coming here.”

The cameras have already caught numerous perpetrators.

For instance, Rivero explained that when a laptop was reported stolen in the law school courtyard, the cameras revealed a worker placing trash from the tables, as well as a lap top, into the trash can she was pushing.

“A lot of them are very well hidden, such as the one in the Wellness Center,” Rivero said.

Approximately 50 percent of the cameras are visible, and 50 percent are hidden.

The thought of being taped without one’s knowledge is often disconcerting to those who value their privacy.

“That’s the negative; everyone thinks Big Brother’s watching,” he said, “We watch areas that are public, not bathrooms, not dorms, areas where you yourself could take out a camera.”

“We want to record hot spots, where there are a lot of people. It wouldn’t pay [off for] me to put cameras where things aren’t happening,” he continued to say.

In this “world of technology,” Rivero estimates the average person is photographed or taped at least six times a day, be it walking into Publix or driving through a toll booth.

UM senior Chris Noel feels the use of cameras is an invasion of privacy.

“I think our generation needs to be very wary about losing too much in terms of privacy in the name of advancements in modern technology,” Noel said .

Artrip, the director of security at the med school campus, said cameras offer many benefits.

“To the criminals, I say big brother is watching,” Artrip said . “To the good students, staff, and visitors, I say UM police are watching video in an attempt to detect and deter crime before it happens.

“My daughter attends the school, and I’m thrilled that the university uses video surveillance to help protect her,” Artrip said.