Pennsylvania State University is installing more than 600 cameras in dormitories and dining commons on its main campus. The $1.4 million upgrade is meant to deter theft and vandalism and increase security, officials said.
The university began installing the digital video cameras in 60 buildings on its State College campus at the end of October and plans to complete the project by May, said Stan Latta, assistant vice president for housing, food services, and residence life.
Penn State already has cameras in dorms at eight of its campuses: Altoona, Beaver, Berks, Harrisburg, Hazleton, Mont Alto, Greater Allegheny, and Erie, Latta said.
About 14,000 students live in residence halls on the main campus and 4,500 at the other campuses.
"Cameras in residence halls are not a new phenomenon," Latta said. "Most of our colleagues in the Big Ten have some sort of security cameras in residence halls."
In the dorms, the cameras will be installed at entrance and exit doors, in elevators, and on loading docks. They also will cover "selected access points" in the dining commons and convenience stores, Latta said. The cameras at the entrance doors will monitor a portion of the lobby, he said.
No cameras will be installed in dorm rooms, bathrooms, corridors, or other areas that would violate student privacy, he said.
"It sounds like they're doing everything pretty much by the book," said S. Daniel Carter, a longtime campus safety expert who directs "32 National Campus Safety Initiative," which formed after the Virginia Tech shootings. "Surveillance cameras are common in public spaces on college campuses across the country, particularly at larger institutions that have a lot of property and space that needs to be secured."
Penn State students have not complained, Latta said.
"Most students are very understanding and aware that no matter where they go, on or off campus, security cameras seem to be everywhere. It's part of our society today," he said.
The university began installing the cameras as it renovated buildings, but then decided to expedite the work, Latta said. The university has had vandalism in elevators and retail theft in its convenience stores that have been hard to track, he said.
At one site where cameras were installed, a theft was quickly solved using the recordings, he said.
The recordings also will help if there is an assault in a dorm, he said.
"We can track when they came in, when they left, are they a resident? It's just another tool when investigating criminal activity," Latta said.
The cameras will not be monitored 24 hours a day, but used by university police when an incident occurs, Latta said. The recordings will be kept for 30 days.