College to review, revise campus security

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • January 24, 2013

Security tedesco
Emerson has been reviewing other college campus security policies as it critiques its own.
Emerson has been reviewing other college campus security policies as it critiques its own.

Emerson College Police Chief Robert Smith will meet with President M. Lee Pelton and the President’s Council, a group of top administrators, on Feb. 12 to discuss the findings in an investigation he completed on local college campuses’ security systems, said Smith.

“One of the first projects I was tasked with when I arrived last summer was to begin reviewing our security measures regarding access to our facilities, especially our residence halls,” said Smith. 

Though Smith would not comment on the specifics of his results until after his meeting with the council, he said he found few consistencies in safety procedures between the four colleges he studied — Northeastern University, Berklee College of Music, Boston University, and Suffolk University.

“There is no common denominator,” said Smith. “Really, all I found was that what each school was doing was working for them.” 

However, he said he will seek to increase Emerson’s use of technology for security purposes, and hopes to install more cameras around campus, similar to Berklee’s setup.

Berklee’s Systems Manager Nicholas Costa said the college has approximately 300 cameras on campus, located both inside and outside of buildings.

“They are really fabulous, and they help with investigations,” said Costa. “They give us the ability to monitor areas of trouble in a live atmosphere. When we see a suspicious character, we can dispatch someone over. It is a great thing.”

Costa said the college increased the number of outside cameras dramatically in the past two years. 

“There have been many instances where the Boston Police have used our footage,” said Costa. “It has been really helpful.” 

Emerson’s campus currently has about 40 cameras outside of its buildings, according to Smith. The footage from these cameras is displayed on screens behind the Securitas desks in the buildings. 

“I’m a big believer in cameras. It is just like having extra bodies out there,” said Smith. “And I really think it does help deter people. They are not going to risk doing something stupid if they know there is a camera recording them.”

Student Bryanna Cappadona said she is worried the cameras may invade privacy. 

“As a student, it is great,” said the junior writing, literature, and publishing major. “But it is invasive for people on the street.” 

Junior Caitlin Duffy disagreed. 

“I think it is a good idea,” said the political communication major. “[Campus police] have good cause.” 

Smith said he would be sure that the cameras do not interfere with locals who walk along Emerson’s campus but do not attend the college. 

“I would be strategic in the placement of the cameras and would not be violating anyone’s expectation of privacy while they were on a public street,” he said. “I wouldn’t try to hide the cameras. I would want anyone who had thoughts of victimizing a member of our community to know that we would have an image of them that we could use in a subsequent investigation.”

Recently, ECPD has made some minor changes to building entry procedures. Smith said he improved security in October when an intruder entered the Little Building after convincing two Securitas officers that he was a college employee.

The college’s first step was to fire the two Securitas employees who let the intruder in to the college, said Smith. He said he also reviewed the building entry policy with all student and Securitas desk workers. 

“They are supposed to take the ID, look at it to make sure the picture is of that person, tap it, and then if the machine lights up green, hand it back,” said Smith. No person should be allowed in the halls without an ID, he added.

Two audits — tests in which a Securitas corporate employee disguised as a student attempts to enter a building without an ID — also occurred last semester, and Smith plans to perform two more this semester. 

According to Smith, these drills went well and the individuals did not enter the building. The desk workers did, however, falter on some of the ID checking steps. 

“There is always room for improvement,” he said. 

Since last weekend, campus security officers have increased their watch over building lobbies, trying to ensure that no unauthorized people sat inside. 

“There are a number of Emerson-owned buildings that serve alcohol,” said Smith. “And students raised concerns that these people were waiting in some of the dormitory lobbies while waiting for cabs and things like that.”

Smith said last weekend, Securitas workers set up blockades, most prevalently in the Piano Row lobby, so that clubgoers and other non-Emerson students could not sit in the building without tapping an ID.

“It is important to me to make sure students aren’t bothered in their own resident halls,” Smith said.