You will be watched

Police Services to install three additional security cameras to the campus

By Cody McFarland, associate editor

While the district shapes a new policy and procedure for the installation and regulation of security cameras on its three college campuses, the project to erect cameras at both entrances of Contra Costa College and one near the Early Learning Center remains in its early stages.

Campus and Police Services officials from the three colleges met on April 16 at the District Office in Martinez to discuss respective locations and infrastructure for new security cameras on the district’s three college campuses — CCC, Diablo Valley and Los Medanos colleges.

A project to install three new security cameras at CCC was approved by the Governing Board and received funding for the programming and initial design of the project. The program level estimate, District Chief Facilities Planner Ray Pyle said, is $1 million.

“The security consultant helping us plan the work is TEECOM,” Pyle said. “We have a budget estimate of about $1 million for the total project, but we don’t have a detailed cost estimate because the project has not been designed.”

Pyle approximated that the security cameras would be likely to arrive at CCC within four to eight months.

History major Cesar Cortes said security cameras are a necessary crime deterrent, “especially down at the parking lots and by the Bus Transfer Center,” locations where he has heard of the most occurrences of crime.

“The cameras are going to be useful. They are something we needed a long time ago,” Cortes said. “It’s kind of surprising that they’re just doing it now.”

Police Services Chief Charles Gibson agrees, referring to the security cameras as “long overdue,” as monitoring the entrances to campus has been on Police Services’ agenda for some time. 

Over the course of the last few months Gibson has worked with district officials to write a district policy and procedure for the installation and monitoring of security cameras within the Contra Costa Community College District.

The policy and procedure will detail who is allowed to install and monitor security cameras, what type of technology is allowed and what signage is necessary, among other specifics.

There are currently nine total security cameras on campus monitored by Police Services; three at the Bus Transfer Center and six within the Student Services Center, Lt. Jose Oliveira said.

“(The new cameras) would be a valuable resource. They allow us to review tapes of when suspects come to campus and when they leave,” Oliveira said. “Monitoring the entrances to the campus was the logical starting point.”

The last time Oliveira was consulted about the cameras was in early September when TEECOM visited campus to survey the college’s entrances and the parking lot outside of the ELC to determine the best infrastructure for the cameras.

Oliveira said that Police Services is looking to institute more security cameras on campus in the future and that security arrangements for the still under construction Campus Center are being planned. It is likely that areas on campus with the largest volume of reported crime will be targeted, Oliveira said.

“We prioritize based on past reports and focus on areas with the most reported crime,” he said.

He said he could not independently determine the next plausible locations for security cameras on campus, as such a decision has to be made by many and garner approval from various shared governance committees.

As a districtwide service, Police Services has always had to get permission from the district Governing Board before securing funding for and erecting new security cameras.

Requests made by individual departments on a district campus have thus far been handled case-by-case by local administrators, in lieu of a districtwide policy.

Any department requesting security cameras must have the expenses approved by an administrator on a case-by-case basis, likely by the department’s dean, Technology Systems Manager James Eyestone said.

Gibson said formation of the new policy is not the result of any formal complaints, but that developing these standards was “just the right thing to do.”

Beyond the nine security cameras at CCC monitored exclusively by Police Services, there are an indefinite number of cameras throughout campus buildings. Locations of some conspicuous cameras include the Bookstore, Computer Technology Center and in and around the Three Seasons Restaurant.

Within the CTC there are 16 surveillance cameras, both functioning and inactive dummy cameras that serve as crime deterrents. Some of these cameras are imperceptible at a glance — hidden within signage and elsewhere in the CTC — and there are also two microphones to pick up audio.

Computer and communications technology professor Rick Figuera, who teaches CCT-171 Security Systems for Home and Small Business, said the cameras and  other systems within the CTC were approved by administration and done in accordance with lab instruction for that class. All factors of installation — running cables, avoiding interference, positioning and mounting — were handled in-lab by students, Figuera said.

“It’s no different than automotive students working on cars next door (in the Automotive Technology Center),” he said. “We do it because we have a physical place to do it at.”

The monitoring of these cameras, however, is done strictly by college administrators through a private server and not by students, he said.

Bookstore Supply Buyer Nicholas Dunn said that when criminal activity is detected in CCC’s Bookstore, he and lead Darris Crear determine what specific merchandise is missing and inspect the video footage to see if there is evidence of it being stolen. Only after they are certain beyond doubt, Dunn said they would then contact Police Services about the incident and burn them a copy of the footage for their investigation.

Chemical engineering major Allison Pack said having additional security cameras would do well for campus safety and that it would be most cost-effective to have one group on campus monitor them, likely Police Services.

As a student who takes night classes, Pack said she appreciates the presence of police aides patrolling in their carts and that the campus is well lit. Adding the crime deterring ability of security cameras would only be a plus, she said.

“The college is a public area, so I don’t see it as a problem,” she said. “It would be a big benefit to security.”

Oliveira said, “Hallways are considered public places and students can be monitored there with no invasion of their privacy.”

Cortes recalls when he originally registered at CCC years ago for Middle College High School, he sat in with a counselor who explained every document he was signing to officially become a student. One was a waiver informing him that the college is a public place and that he is subject to being photographed or recorded while on campus. He signed.

“They have permission from us if they have our signatures on record,” Cortes said.