Open communication boosts security at University of Maryland
Open communication boosts security at University of Maryland

Dec 1, 1997 12:00 PM

Campus crime has become a national issue, and colleges and universities everywhere - including the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. - have begun to beef up security operations to protect students and others who live and work on campus.

At the main campus of the University of Maryland, Major Michael McNair, deputy chief of police for operations, installed a 25-camera closed-circuit television (CCTV) system in September 1996. The results encouraged McNair to expand the system. In the past year, he has added an emergency telephone communication system consisting of 200 phones supplied by Code Blue Corp., Holland, Mich. In the past few months, he has installed 19 CCTV cameras to a new parking deck on campus. In the next year, he hopes to add 50 more cameras.

"College campuses and the general public are adopting zero tolerance for violent crime," says Major McNair. "People don't want to have any violent crimes."

National statistics show a sobering picture of campus crime. Early this year, the National Center for Education Statistics raised a storm with the release of a study of crime on college campuses around the nation. The study drew data from 1,500 institutions during 1994 and categorized the figures under Uniform Crime Reporting procedures, which made it possible to compare campus crime with general trends. The statistics showed:

- 65 of every 100,000 students were involved in a violent crime in 1994. Violent crimes include murders (20), forcible sex offenses (1,310), robberies (3,130) and aggravated assaults (5,090).

- 257 students in every 100,000 were victims of property crimes, which include burglaries (28,790) and vehicle thefts (8,980).

Nationally, 716 people in every 100,000 were victims of violent crime in the general population during 1994. Critics of the report contended that the campus study showed such lower rates of crime on campus because of under-reporting. According to the critics, students report many campus crimes to administration officials instead of to campus security offices. As a result, those crimes do not show up in official statistics.

Like all campuses, College Park suffers its share of crime. According to Major McNair, problems include violent crimes and property crimes committed by people wandering onto campus. Hot spots where problems occur include parking lots and areas around residence halls. "Few crimes occur inside residence halls and classrooms," Major McNair says.

Major McNair allocates the department's resources to prevent violent crime and minimize property crime. "Understanding that the same kinds of individuals commit both crimes, we want to prevent violent crime and work to minimize property crime as much as possible," says Major McNair. "In other words, reducing one type of crime will reduce the other."

Providing security at a campus as large as College Park is like policing a small town. This school year, about 32,000 students attend classes on campus.

On any given day, about 8,000 students and 9,000 faculty and employees will be on campus. During football games, the number of people on campus may range from 25,000 to 50,000, depending upon how the Terrapins are doing.

The physical layout of the campus covers 4 square miles and spans 115 buildings, including classrooms and residence halls.

Security begins at the perimeter, where 12 gates control access to the property. Security officers staff two of the gates, which remain open around the clock. The other 10 gates admit faculty, employees and students between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., but are otherwise locked.

The security force includes 70 sworn officers with full policing authority and 150 police aids. Officers in security vehicles patrol the campus day and night. Officers also lock and unlock buildings by hand every day. "We're starting to go to electronic locking devices that lock automatically at certain hours of the day," says Major McNair. "We also have some swipe card systems, and we're moving more and more in that direction as we renovate older buildings and add new ones."

The electronic locking and swipe card systems are supplied by Northern Computers, Milwaukee.

Motion detection and alarm systems protect selected high-security buildings on campus. These include a campus bank, the registrar's office, several research facilities and a branch of the National Security Administration. These facilities have purchased and installed access control systems on their own. The security department monitors these systems, whose alarms ring through to the campus security operations center.

Access control, of course, helps to prevent crimes inside buildings. As mentioned earlier, however, the primary focus of security at the University of Maryland is on preventing violent crimes, which occur outside in the parking lots and areas around residence halls. "This is a public campus and people are free to wander around," Major McNair says. "To control access to the campus completely, we would have to build a wall around the campus, and no one wants to do that. What we have done is put up an electronic brick wall," with a Code Blue emergency telephone communications system that includes 200 phones and a complementary CCTV system.

All 200 of the phones are mounted outside in areas that would not ordinarily offer telephone service: outside residence halls and classroom buildings, in the parking lots and decks and along walkways. To supplement the phones, all of the pay phones scattered across the campus have been set to accept 911 calls at no charge.

About half of the emergency phones mount on the walls of buildings and parking decks. They have a chrome finish and a blue light to promote visibility. A strobe light sits atop the mount and will flash whenever the phone's emergency button is pushed. The rest of the phones are mounted in 8-foot-tall pole stations with an "emergency" sign in bold white lettering on top.

Major McNair has integrated the emergency phones with the campus CCTV system composed of color cameras supplied by Sanyo Security Video Products, Chatsworth, Calif. The Sanyo cameras fit the bill because of their small size and reliable color capability.

Eight of the phone pole stations provide camera housings specially designed by Code Blue. "The original station designs have camera mounts that allow you to see only the person talking on the phone," Major McNair says. "We asked for a design modification, and now we can mount the cameras on top of the pole and use pan/tilt/zoom to view the area around the station."

At this point, the CCTV system is relatively small and acts to supplement the emergency communications capabilities. In addition to the eight cameras on the pole stations, seven cameras are mounted on 20-foot-tall poles around campus. Another 10 cameras provide surveillance from roof tops.

The pole-mounted cameras are key to the CCTV system because they have been placed along walkways landscaped with trees. "Trees block many of the views from the roof-top cameras," Major McNair says. "The pole-mounted cameras enable us to see under the trees."

The main challenge in designing and installing the College Park emergency telephone and CCTV system was cabling. The expense of laying new cable from the phones and cameras to the security operations center would have been prohibitive.

The solution arose when the university's communications department decided to replace portions of the campus-wide, twisted-pair telephone wiring network with fiber optics. "They left the twisted-pair system in place, and we've used that to connect the emergency telephones and cameras," says Major McNair.

The twisted-pair network created two of its own problems: distance and interference, according to technicians at DEI Integrated Security and Control Systems of Baltimore, which integrated and installed the system.

"I think this system sets records for sending color signals over twisted-pair phone wire," says Michael Simmons, regional sales manager for DEI. "The runs range from 1 to 2 miles. In addition, the phone wires we used were bundled in groups of 2,200 pairs. When you send a video signal through a large bundle like that, you're asking for interference from harmonics created by signals riding on the other cables in the bundle."

To solve these problems, DEI re-specified the signal transmission equipment used at the camera sites and at the receiving end of the loop, opting for transmitter/receiver sets from Northern Information Technology, Arlington Heights, Ill.

"We chose Northern Information because they could handle the hefty distances," says James Lowery, director of technical services for DEI. The system also helps reduce interference with built-in surge protection and other measures.

Another challenge involved system configuration. The twisted-pair cable runs all terminate in the campus telecommunications center, which is some distance from the security operations center. "We multiplexed the signals in the telecommunications center and sent them to the security office over fiber-optic cable," Lowery says.

The system employs two duplex multiplexers from Dedicated Micros, Reston, Va. The duplex units provide switching capabilities and allow simultaneous time-lapse VCR recording. "A duplex multiplexer has two processors and can provide multiple screen outputs and split-screen video," says Lowery. "In addition, what you do on the screen doesn't affect your ability to record with a VCR." Toshiba Security Products, Irvine, Calif., supplied the time-lapse VCRs.

Each of the multiplexers can feed video from up to 16 cameras through the fiber to a line of four 20-inch monitors, also supplied by Toshiba, in the security center. The two monitors in the center receive multiple signals and show all of the cameras in a split-screen format. To the left and right, spot monitors cycle through video from each camera in a full-screen format. Officers control the multiplexers by keyboard and can call up signals from individual cameras whenever necessary.

The communications console fields calls from the Code Blue telephones across campus over a system that includes a Caller ID display that locates the phone in use. When a call comes in, officers operate the pan/tilt/zoom controls on nearby cameras to view the situation around the activated phone.

During its first year of operation, the CCTV system appears to have helped control crime on campus. A survey conducted by the campus security department indicates that violent crime has not increased and that property crimes have declined significantly in some cases (see sidebar).

"We've talked to the security people at other schools where cameras have been installed and they have reported similar results," Major McNair says. "I think this is going to be a trend in most colleges over the next couple of years."

At the very least, it appears to be a trend at College Park. Major McNair plans significant expansions in the CCTV system. He recently supervised the installation of 19 cameras in a new four-level parking deck and has included a request for 50 additional cameras in next year's budget.

The Security Department of the University of Maryland at College Park routinely tracks crime on campus. To assess the efficacy of a recently installed CCTV system, Major Michael McNair, deputy chief of police for operations at the university, compared crime statistics before and after the system's installation.

The comparison ran from September to June of 1995-96, before the system was installed, and from September to June of 1996-97 following the installation, which included 25 cameras located on roof tops and poles along walkways and in parking lots across the campus.

In the comparison, violent crimes showed little change. There were 24 aggravated assaults before the CCTV installation and 24 after. Ten robberies occurred before the installation and 12 occurred in the year following.

That comparison may be flawed because of the low numbers of violent crimes.

A more telling comparison arises in the area of property crimes. Motor vehicle thefts dropped from 69 to 31. Vandalism of automobiles fell from 25 incidents to 13. Property thefts declined from 444 to 299, or 33 percent.

Given the fact that the CCTV system does not cover the entire campus, Major McNair wondered if the drop in property crimes might have occurred without the help of CCTV. "To make a more certain comparison, we looked at incidents occurring in the parking lots that we eventually covered with CCTV," Major McNair says. "In those parking lots, thefts from autos dropped from 155 incidents to 85. Auto parts thefts went from 166 incidents to 107. I believe we can reasonably attribute the change in these property crimes to the CCTV cameras."

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