NIU Police plan to expand video surveillance in residence halls

By Ashley Dwy

DeKALB — NIU police plan to install video cameras on emergency exit doors in all residence halls as part of a five-year partnership between the Division of Information Technology, NIU Police and residence hall directors, NIU Police Commander Don Rodman said.

Rodman said the cameras will immediately alert the staff if and when someone uses the doors. The goal is to prevent students from using the emergency exit doors in non-emergency situations and to be sure no one trespasses, he said.

Senior Director of Housing Dan Pedersen said Stevenson Towers acted as a beta test, and the smart-technology camera integration is near completion. Stevenson was used as a practice run for the cameras because it is one of the largest complexes at NIU, he said.

“We identified a dozen or so individuals [who trespassed at Stevenson] who were either charged with criminal trespassing or given notice [and] then asked not to return to campus,” Rodman said.

NIU Chief of Police Thomas Philips said he is drafting the plan to present to university officials. Meetings are ongoing for the project plans and cost models. Philips said he would guess the Stevenson cameras cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

“The plan is more of a three-pronged approach: cameras, locks for the doors and guest registration,” Philips said. “Our big goal is to integrate into a software enterprise system and improve access control through the locks and guest registration.”

Rodman said security cameras will focus where entry is possible in the residence halls, because the NIU Police Department wants students to feel safe within their living space. Then the camera use may expand on campus based on different needs.

Besides criminal trespassing, the cameras will act as a deterrent for students tempted to use the emergency doors in non-emergency situations, Pedersen said.

“Hopefully [the alarmed security cameras] would be a deterrent for people not to go through [the emergency exit doors] because they think it’s convenient — now they know they’re going to be captured on video,” Pedersen said.

Stevenson resident Andrea Sanchez said she would prefer to use these doors because of their convenient locations.

“I would like to use those doors because, in Stevenson, they’re closer to outside,” Sanchez said. “I’d get to my classes a lot faster by going through those doors instead of walking all the way around just to use the main entrance.”

Sanchez said she is concerned with what will qualify as an emergency.

“What happens if I’m being chased and it’s an emergency to me, but it may not be an emergency to them?” Sanchez asked.

Rodman said there will be a need for communication between students and staff to ensure the safety of those living in the residence halls.

“Cameras can do a reactive job, but students and staff need to work together to ensure only the proper people are allowed in the buildings at all times — we need to reinforce a partnership,” Rodman said.