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Penn State to add cameras at main campus to enhance security

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By Anna Orso
Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State is installing about 450 security cameras in its State College dormitories and dining commons areas as a means of curbing vandalism and theft, part of an effort to boost security at its branches across the state.

According to officials, the $1.4 million project should wrap up by August and students can expect to be captured via surveillance cameras in lobbies, elevators and stairwells in 60 on-campus housing units.

“It's just a good safety practice, and it's basically enhancing our already strong security program,” said Conal Carr, Penn State's director of housing operations. “Security cameras have been utilized in multiple areas including student housing for years. We are really now just coming up to speed.”

According to the school's 2013 annual security report, on-campus police recorded 219 incidents of vandalism and 411 incidents of theft in 2012. However, police made just 21 and 32 arrests, respectively. Officials said there was no specific impetus for the decision to add the cameras at University Park.

Penn State has dorm surveillance systems at eight branch campuses including Altoona, Beaver, Berks, Harrisburg, Hazleton, Mont Alto, Greater Allegheny and Erie. Many of the dormitories at those sites are newer than buildings at University Park and got surveillance systems when they were built.

Penn State spokeswoman Anne-marie Mountz said the goal is to have cameras installed in all residence halls at Penn State's 22 campuses. However, that has to be done in phases and she said there is “no timetable or cost estimate for additional phases at this time.”

The project is funded by Penn State Housing and Residence Life, which is using money from room and board from the more than 14,000 students who reside in on-campus housing units.

Carr said the main activitiesofficials hope to catch on camera are those leading to vandalism and theft. He said students typically report their dorm rooms were entered while unlocked.

Carr said surveillance cameras on ground levels can help police determine when certain people entered and exited buildings to aid investigations.

Cameras won't be installed in dorm rooms, bathrooms or hallways in dorms. Carr said housing officials haven't heard complaints from students about their privacy.

“A lot of them are very accustomed to cameras being in shops, restaurants and any place where security is of a concern,” Carr said.

Penn State Police Chief Tyrone Parham said police will not monitor the cameras at all times but will use recordings when there is an investigation. The cameras will save recordings at least 30 days.

Parham said he's believed for the past two decades that surveillance would help with investigations and deter students from offending in the first place.

“We love to have them,” Parham added. “They will be an added deterrence and the best assistive tool for investigations. We're pretty excited.”

Anna Orso is a freelance reporter based in State College.

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