Watchful Eyes and Lenses
Watchful Eyes and Lenses

Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM

A would-be thief was so busy breaking into a parked car on the campus of Atlanta's Morehouse College that he was totally unaware that his every move was under the watchful eye of the college's police department. More specifically, he was under the watchful lens of one of Morehouse's dome cameras that allow the police to view a majority of the campus grounds. An officer was dispatched to the area and the suspect was arrested even as he was still rifling through the vehicle.

Before the college began installing its current video surveillance system in 2000, the campus suffered from numerous vehicle break-ins. But word soon spread across the campus that the police were effectively using their new system to make arrests. In a short time, the number of incidents declined dramatically.

"I still see an occasional break-in report cross my desk, but now the perpetrator is almost guaranteed to be someone unfamiliar with the campus who is unaware we are watching them," says Vernon Worthy, chief of the Morehouse College Police Department.

Back in 2000, the college's video surveillance system consisted of a four-camera system to monitor the perimeter of the home of the president of the college. Worthy, a 28-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department, wanted a system that would provide his campus officers with better coverage. At first, he says, the college administration was somewhat reluctant to approve funding for more equipment. "There was a presumption that we could cover the 60-plus-acre campus with human personnel," he says. "The reality is that we can't have officers everywhere at all times. But at the same time, I realized it was cost-prohibitive to put in all the equipment we wanted at once. I knew we would have to accomplish our goals in phases."

After consultation with Andr¨¦ Bertrand, vice president of campus operations, Worthy was given the go-ahead to proceed with a system that would grow as funding became available. ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Fla. was retained to help plan the system.

Morehouse College, founded in 1867 as the Augusta Institute in Augusta, Ga., is the nation's only private, historically black, four-year liberal arts college for men. The college has about 3,000 students and 238 full- and part-time faculty members. Morehouse is part of the Atlanta University Center District, located in an urban area just west of Atlanta's business center. The district includes Morehouse and five other major institutions for higher learning.

For the past five years, ADT has been involved in designing, installing and maintaining security systems for the six colleges, which include Morehouse, Clark, Morris Brown, Spelman, the Interdenominational Theological Center and Atlanta University. The systems include a variety of equipment including video surveillance, access control and fire and burglary alarm panels.

Jamie Rosand, vice president of commercial sales and marketing for ADT, said that Morehouse has been able to significantly expand its video surveillance system over the past three years. "When we started work there in 2000, there was only a four-camera system with a quad splitter that monitored the perimeter of the college president's home on the campus," she reiterates. "That system has been replaced as part of a master plan to meet the college's security requirements for the future, yet stay within the budget constraints that virtually all institutions face today."

Worthy said his original goal of providing camera coverage for at least 75 percent of the outdoor campus has been met. "Now, we try to include security equipment in the budget for new construction and retrofit other locations as the budget permits, with the idea of always improving our ability to monitor campus activities," he says.

Currently, there are 22 Pelco Spectra II dome cameras providing perimeter views of the college's administration buildings, computer labs, recreational facilities and stadium. The video is fed via fiber optics to police headquarters. There, a switcher processes the video to be displayed on four 19-inch monitors, and ADT has replaced the department's VCRs with two digital video recorders. The switcher, monitors and DVRs are all Pelco products. The DVRs allow the police to store up to 30 days of recorded video, which is then archived to CDs for storage.

The 34-member Police/Security Department monitors the cameras at all times. ADT is in the process of wiring all audible and silent alarms into police headquarters for monitoring by campus officers.

Within a year, the campus will have up to 36 cameras installed as the video system is expanded to keep pace with new construction. Four of six planned cameras have already been installed in a new four-level, 470-vehicle-capacity parking garage recently opened on campus.

Morehouse and ADT are also currently reviewing access control systems to provide card access to campus dormitories.

Morehouse is already controlling automotive access by having all persons driving a motor vehicle onto the campus to pass through one of two manned control points. There, an officer checks faculty, staff and students for parking permits and directs visitors to appropriate parking areas.

But it is the video surveillance system that Worthy credits with "multiplying the eyes of our officers and helping us to better provide for our campus population."

The chief recalls an incident in which two men robbed a student. Although the victims' description of the assailants was sketchy, a reasonable description of one robber was obtained. The very next day, another student was robbed again ¡ª by the same men and at the same location.

"Between the victim's descriptions and the video we had recorded of the incidents, we were able to identify the robbers and make arrests," Worthy says. "We charged both with two robbery incidents, and they are now awaiting trial."

Success stories such as these have helped make believers of once-skeptical college administrators, he said.

"The cameras and the alarms have worked ¡ª the system has proven itself," Worthy says. "Our officers are now much faster in responding to events, and I know we are helping to deter many crimes."

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