Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, March 17, 2018

If Public Safety wants to stop intruders, they should look to video tape

Perhaps the easiest way to stop campus trespassers is staring us right in the face

If Public Safety wants to stop intruders, they should look to video tape

The new Public Safety building on East Campus. 

American University has a bit of a trespassing problem. Three times in the last 12 months alone, outsiders have strolled onto campus at odd hours of the night and have committed either a hateful or bias-related act.

According to data released by the Anti-Defamation League in February 2018, trespassers are targeting colleges nationwide. During the fall semester alone, the ADL recorded 147 incidents of white supremacist postering on college campuses across the country. This is an alarming 258 percent increase from the fall semester of the previous year.

This is not an AU issue, it’s a national issue. But if we aren’t diligent in preventing it, the incidents may only continue. It’s time we pay closer attention.

First, someone targeted students of color with bananas hanging from nooses. In September, someone posted Confederate flags in campus buildings. Trespassers struck again in January anti-immigration flyers were posted outside Kerwin Hall.

Public Safety later released surveillance footage of the bananas. After the flags were posted, they did the same. Of course, after the anti-immigration posters were found, you can bet Public Safety was ready with the footage.

That really leaves us with one glaringly obvious question. Does anybody actually watch the cameras?

The great thing about having security cameras on campus is that they can stop a suspicious individual before any crime can be committed. Of course, in order for surveillance cameras to do their job, someone actually has to be surveilling.

Consider this example. When I was about 11 years old, I walked into school one day to learn we would be having a substitute teacher. However, after about 40 minutes, nobody showed up. The school forgot to give us a teacher. On that day, I learned nothing.

Schools are only educational if someone is there to educate, just like how security cameras are only effective if someone is there to keep things secure. After three incidents that could have been stopped, the University seems to have learned nothing.

I’m not saying we need Big Brother to watch us at all times. But is it so unreasonable to think that if there were more people on the other end of the surveillance screens, our campus might be safer?

Public Safety opened up a new office space on East Campus last semester, touting a plethora of new tools and features to keep the campus safe. Along with their new facility, Public Safety expanded its staff, introduced a campus lockdown button and even designed a 24-hour communications center.

Yet, with over 600 security cameras on campus, according to Public Safety’s website, it’s unrealistic to think one person could monitor them all at once. That makes about as much sense as an empty police cruiser sitting on the quad.

President Burwell recently released her Plan for Inclusive Excellence in response to the hate that has rocked the campus in the past year. It is a comprehensive strategy on how diversity and inclusion is facilitated at AU.

Unfortunately, the plan leaves much to be desired in terms of preventing further bias-related incidents. After all, there may be nothing more jarring to diversity on campus than when our students are attacked for who they are and what they look like.

I’m not saying the plan is poor or ineffective whatsoever. I am saying that the smallest steps, however, sometimes leave the biggest footprint.

Ironically, the simplest answer may be staring us right in the face. But for now, we can only hope that Public Safety will begin to stare right back at it.

Chris Whitbeck is a junior in the School of Communication and The Eagle’s assistant opinion editor.

Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.