Voigt Hall received a new trimming before this school year — video cameras that safety officials say can be used for almost any type of law enforcement purpose.
A total of 17 security cameras were installed in Voigt Hall, the only all-female dorm at Ohio University, over the summer.
Six cameras will monitor entrances and stairwells from inside the hall, and seven cameras will be placed outside the residence hall. In addition, there will be four cameras in common areas of the building: the main lobby and the basement lounge.
“The university considers these spaces to be public,” said Josh Bodnar, assistant director for sales, promotion and communication in Residential Housing.
“The cameras are installed and functioning, but the system that records the video is not up and running yet,” Bodnar said. “We are expected to have that finished later in the quarter.”
The security cameras were part of a larger electrical upgrade to Voigt Hall that included swipe access to the dorm. The total estimated project cost was slightly more than $1 million, Bodnar said.
Although there were two arsons during Fall Quarter in True House and Foster House on South Green, they were not the motivation for the installation, as the cameras were installed in late July, prior to the fires.
“(The arsons) did serve to reinforce that it was something we wanted to look at,” Bodnar said.
Ohio University Police Department Chief, Andrew Powers, said he had yet to develop any specific guidelines for reviewing the footage.
“While it’s doubtful we would use video footage to investigate alcohol-related offenses, it’s certainly possible,” Powers said in an email. “From a police perspective, reviewing video footage of public areas does not require a warrant, or even reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”
Residents at Voigt Hall were informed of the security cameras at the beginning of Fall Quarter said Sydney Mack, a freshman studying special education.
“I wasn’t concerned,” Mack said. “I feel like, at least on my floor, nobody really thought too much about it.”
Mack said she wasn’t worried about the cameras because residents were told they would only be reviewed if there was illegal activity.
“I feel like they would be doing it for a good reason,” she said. “I don’t feel like they’re spying on us or anything.”
Callie Sauter, the residential director of Voigt Hall, said no students had approached her with any questions or concerns regarding the security cameras.
Two or three Residential Housing employees will have access to the videos; the extent of their access will be finalized once the system is running, Bodnar said.
OUPD’s access to the footage will be more extensive, Powers said.
“Although we haven’t set up access yet, I will want all OUPD staff to be able to review the footage both historically and in real time,” Powers said. “If we receive a call in progress, the dispatcher can pull up the cameras to see what is happening in real time.”
Bodnar said the cameras would be set up as not to see any student hallways, student bedrooms or restrooms.
“We do believe there’s an expectation of privacy. … And we want to respect that,” Bodnar said.
The footage will not be actively monitored and will be erased between two weeks and one month, depending on how much motion the cameras detect, Bodnar said.
Although Voigt Hall is the only residence hall to use security cameras, others will follow once more funding is made available. Bodnar said the university intends to have cameras in all residence halls within 10 or 15 years.
The next residence halls to receive cameras will likely be two new South Green residence halls scheduled to open in 2014, he said.
Video surveillance already exists at OU in Ping Center and Chubb Hall and is permitted by OU written policy, Bodnar said.
Bodnar added that Ohio State University and Youngstown State University both also use video surveillance in residence halls.