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Increased surveillance on University of Calgary campus a positive step forward

By Scott Strasser, October 25 2016 —

On Oct. 14, a fight broke out between two men in the MacHall food court after comments were made about a “Make America Great Again” hat.

Though University of Calgary campus security and the Calgary Police Services investigated the incident, we’ll probably never know exactly what happened in the altercation. There is a closed-circuit television camera in the area, but footage of the incident proved inconclusive. A large pole partially blocked the camera’s view, which meant the CPS were unable to determine who instigated the fight.

Both participants of the fight claim the other started it and shared differing accounts of the fight’s details. Due to the lack of high-quality CCTV in the case, the CPS were forced to turn this into a “he said, he said” investigation and file their report based on claims from biased witnesses.

It is surprising to learn there was no clear footage of the incident, considering the U of C increased its CCTV surveillance by over 750 per cent in the last few years.

According to campus security, there are currently 621 CCTV cameras at the U of C. While that is a lot more than the paltry 82 cameras on campus just a few years ago, it’s still a very small number for a university of our size. Chief of campus security Brian Sembo says similarly-sized universities can have anywhere from 3,500 to 9,000 cameras.

Fortunately, campus security said they plan to increase their CCTV presence again this year, pledging to install another 176 cameras by the end of March.

With tens of thousands of people passing through the university every day, we need to push for higher CCTV surveillance.

“It sounds like a lot that we went from 80 to 500, but in fact, we’re just now playing some catch up,” Sembo said.

The U of C needs a larger CCTV presence because the U of C continues to experiences a high rate of crime. Theft has proven to be a recent issue at the U of C and there were seven reported cases of assault in campus security’s latest statistics report. Students also continue to receive security alerts about different acts of crime on campus on a regular basis. Having more CCTV would give campus security a better chance of identifying future suspects.

While some students may lament that “Big Brother” is always watching them, CCTV is one of the most significant tools in campus security’s arsenal. Sembo and other campus security officials believe the deterrence factor of CCTV has reduced theft in areas with several cameras nearby.

“Places like the bookstore, we’re certainly getting anecdotally good reports about the deterrence factor of having those additional cameras in those areas,” Sembo said.

Campus security also attributed CCTV to the identification of Alexander Louis Harsanyi and Monica Rebalski — two suspects of a long string of credit card thefts from the U of C locker rooms in the kinesiology complex last year.

“The capture of those folks for those thefts was directly attributed to that new CCTV system we installed. We’re having a lot of success with that new technology,” Sembo said.

Another recent incident where CCTV proved useful was the mass posting of anti-Muslim posters at the U of C earlier this month. Campus security reviewed surveillance footage in the areas that the posters were found and identified a prime suspect. Without the help of surveillance footage, we wouldn’t know what the racist asshat who likely put up the posters looks like.

It’s obvious that as the U of C expands in size, so too should its number of CCTV cameras. The extra 176 cameras that will be installed at the U of C by the end of March will definitely help. Hopefully the trend will continue and the next time a fight breaks out in MacHall, we can find out who threw the first punch.

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