My NacuboWhy Join: Benefits of Membership

E-mail:   Password:   

 Remember Me? | Forgot password? | Need an online account?

Business Officer Magazine

Technology Trends and Implications for Campus Security

From license plate reader systems to GPS installation into firearms, emerging technologies are making their way to campus security departments. As these tools mature, campus police and university administration will need to collaborate on the best means to use them—safely and legally.

By Debbie Richeson

Consider a crazed gunman stalking people in a university building and being apprehended by campus police before the first shot is fired. This would cause a collective sigh of relief from the administration, students, and many concerned parents who rely on the university to keep their children safe. Interestingly, emerging technologies would allow a campus police agency to effectively mitigate a myriad of such threats from firearms, trespassers, and other sources.

At the same time, the potential for many of these options to be seen as impediments to personal privacy or threats to intellectual property makes their use much more complex than one might imagine. As technology matures, campus police and their university administrations will need to collaborate on the best means by which to implement new tools so as not to create a disconnection between policing and the larger mission to educate students in an academic setting. Research I conducted in 2013, while a class participant in the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Command College program, sheds some light on this overall topic.

Advantages of a Collaborative Culture

In 2008, EDUCAUSE released a white paper, "The Role of IT in Campus Security and Emergency Management," noting: "University campuses can be sprawling physical and virtual entities, demanding planning consideration for locations as varied as green spaces, parking lots, athletic venues, research labs, housing, classroom spaces, and institutional communications networks. Crisis planning is often coordinated between disparate departments, involving personnel from information technology, facilities, environmental services, and campus police and requiring a multilayered approach that can often become tangled and mismanaged without a central emergency-management team." Administrative leaders and the campus police should consider ways to untangle any conflicts they may have.

Nonetheless, an institution's leaders can come together to create a collaborative, cohesive working structure across all university entities to form a plan for emergency management and campus security that will work for many years to come.

At San Diego State University (SDSU), for example, our campus police department is working with administration to ensure that the campus is moving forward to create an IT infrastructure to take advantage of current and future safety technologies in a responsible way. (See the related feature article, "Safety, Certified," in the May 2014 issue of Business Officer.)

Customized Security Infrastructure

More information is available to the officer today than ever before (often accessed with mobile data computers), including suspects' pictures, criminal backgrounds, and warrant information. Although these are among numerous technological innovations being used by community and state police, the unique setting and mission of campus police departments across the country strongly influences how institutions procure important technology for their officers, and also how officers interact with their campus administration to deploy technologies to mitigate the potential impact of crisis incidents.

Part of SDSU's mission is to involve the campus police department in ensuring that the academic mission is met. Consequently, university leadership makes sure security-related decisions enhance student success, research and creative endeavors, community relations, and overall communication. When it comes to implementing the tools and changing technology necessary to safeguard the institution, the campus benefits from the administration and law enforcement teams creating a formal infrastructure that enhances law enforcement activities.

To obtain more information for my POST program research as to existing team interactions, my chief forwarded questions on my behalf to campus police departments in the California State University (CSU) system in early 2014. The goal was to determine what kind of input (if any) they had in institutional decisions regarding developments in campus safety. Thirteen of the 23 campuses responded, with 11 stating that they do get involved in the planning stages of new projects on campus by giving their perspective on safety and security. One CSU chief stated, "The administration needs to understand the importance of developing a safe campus and how design, lighting, landscape, alarms, and cameras play a big role." While true, this statement doesn't address ways in which police can work with administration to factor in future technology—and reflects a commonly held priority, a focus on the status quo.

An example of going beyond the status quo to effective collaboration in moving forward is that of SDSU's campus police working with the administration and other entities on campus to do the following:

  • Add security cameras in key areas.
  • Meet with management and IT staff of key stakeholders, such as housing and residential life, Love Library, and Associated Students to streamline the camera technology.
  • Establish a separate camera network with all groups involved, using the same software and setup to allow access to all cameras on this network. As a result, the police can view many cameras in real time that they formerly had to request permission to access. This greatly increases the ability for police to see more information in real time and quickly gain information needed for action and/or evidence. 

These collaborations will allow the different departments on campus to consolidate their work to deploy newer technologies instead of following the former protocols that resulted in work that was completely independent of that of others. Additionally, it extends the ability for future technology to be on a bigger, more secure network, providing access by other stakeholders to information once available only to the police.

High Tech Protection to Come

As SDSU police confer and collaborate with other campus departments, they are identifying a number of possibilities for protective technologies. Among the ones with the greatest potential to mitigate a critical incident are GPS-implanted firearms, license plate readers, and notification and alert systems for persons on campus during emergencies.

Firearm global positioning systems (GPS). In January 2014, three separate incidents shocked the country, resulting in a gunshot injury of a student at Widener University, Chester, Philadelphia; the death of a teaching assistant at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana; and a campus shooting at South Carolina State University, Orangeburg. Sadly, these incidents have become a part of the national landscape. However, in the near future, there could be a way to detect firearms before they are used.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) has disclosed a means to construct firearms that can be tracked through the use of global positioning systems (GPS). The agency has announced the development of a firearm with microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that include a miniature GPS system. The system could be ready for installation into new firearms for public sale in the United States in the next three to five years. Of course, the politics of gaining public support to implant all firearms with GPS pushes this likelihood well into the future. If approved, however, universities could support wireless and sensor technology throughout the campus to detect gun locations and related security risks.

License plate reader (LPR) systems. Invented in England in 1976, license plate readers are becoming more prominent here in the United States. The San Diego County sheriff's department currently uses more than 50 vehicles equipped with readers that can gather data that assists in searching for stolen or wanted vehicles. The information provided can be used in real time or forensically after a crime has occurred.

LPR cameras can be affixed to garages and street corners in addition to police vehicles.   When looking at LPR technology, campus law enforcement should consider its future uses, which could be numerous. For instance, in a CNN special report, "Embracing the Police Force of the Future," published last September, the San Diego Trolley Corp. now safeguards light-rail passengers by using video analytics software to alert law enforcement to suspicious behavior in public transit. Similar capabilities could be deployed for campuses. Additionally, if the network infrastructure on campus could gather license plate and behavioral information, it could be utilized to detect persons that law enforcement would want to monitor or approach for questioning.

Ensuring campus cell networks. Tall buildings with thick concrete and metal infrastructure quite often cause a loss of cell signals. Placing GPS and cell receiver sensors throughout campus creates needed redundancy for mobile applications, such as those related to tracking the campus shuttle, campus directional maps, and mobile security applications. Building such a sensor network, the university is safeguarded from liability should there be an emergency and the cellular networks are overloaded and/or fail. The most significant action at the outset of any campus emergency would be to notify persons of impending danger.

Creating a network infrastructure to gather information will benefit campus police in preventing and solving crime. It will also provide the foundation for future technologies. As noted in the EDUCAUSE 2008 white paper: "Today's technologies are increasingly mobile, highly integrated, and inherently flexible. From social networking sites to geospatial imaging, campuses are already taking advantage of emerging tools to address critical needs."

Privacy Concerns to Consider

Research into the way that GPS-implanted firearms might impact campus police operations surfaced the significant issue of privacy concerns. We convened a group of panelists, in April 2013, including an assistant vice president of student affairs, a network analyst, a police gun rangemaster, and a parent of an SDSU student to discuss trends and possible events or consequences as they related to GPS in firearms. During the discussions, participants raised concerned about GPS and related data collection—which are occurring more and more in law enforcement—in terms of increased tracking of the general public, and the impact of this tracking on civil liberties and privacy.

An excellent example of what can go wrong when tracking and subsequent data collection are misused is the Boston Police Department's experience with license plate scanning. The department had been conducting such scanning and data gathering on vehicles all over Boston—automatically checking for outstanding parking tickets, lapsed insurance, and other violations. While research was conducted in response to a public records act request, it was discovered that the Boston Police Department did not redact license plate information nor did the department respond to numerous alerts to stolen vehicles.

According to a Boston Globe story, published last December, reporter Shawn Musgrave explained that the department did not responsibly release the requested information, nor did they show they were responsibly using the information. In response to this incident, state Rep. Jonathan Hecht stated: "It's not realistic to think that law enforcement will police itself when it comes to technologies like license plate readers." Additionally, he stated, "If you go too far in collecting information just because you can, it undermines people's confidence in government," and "that ultimately makes law enforcement's job much more difficult."

These situations can rise to the level of the courtroom. For example, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2013 "that the police will now have to get a search warrant before obtaining tracking information from cellphone providers." A learning curve is also involved with regard to appropriate use of new technology. Since the rise of GPS technology, for example, law enforcement has used this accessible tool to track people involved in illegal activity. Meanwhile, the courts were questioning whether warrants should be required, but no final decision was made until just recently. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals made the final decision in October 2013, stating that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS device to track suspects. The decision is seen as a victory by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is concerned that the police need supervision to ensure that privacy is not infringed. Cases such as these are very important and are needed to ensure that law enforcement still has the ability to use such tools, but within the scope of the law.

Concerns as They Relate to the Campus

Public concerns can be taken one step further on a university campus, where academic freedom, intellectual property rights, and unions are strong. For example, a camera being placed in a classroom, lab, or office space can cause concern for various reasons. The professor may feel that his or her intellectual property rights are being violated, whereas an employee may fear that the camera can be used for disciplinary purposes.

One way to address such concerns is for campus police to look at what, from where, and for what purpose data are being gathered—not only from the security department's perspective, but that of the campus community, which expects transparency.

Creating a camera policy for the campus and putting it in place is a start in achieving proper use of this tool. The policy can state what the purposes of cameras are, and how and why they are used. The same should go for other technologies, with policy focusing on campus safety. The 2008 EDUCAUSE white paper put it this way: "Emergency managers are constantly fighting a battle, between deploying preventative measures, such as monitoring and risk profiling, and maintaining institutional values of privacy and academic freedom."

As law enforcement learns of new safety technologies, the existing partnerships with others will ensure that they can more quickly facilitate implementation; and the transparency needed to be fully prepared for any potential crisis will dramatically increase. At San Diego State University, we've begun to achieve that balance by recognizing that the police department and the university would benefit from greater police participation in discussions of potential campus infrastructure changes. The administration and others on campus have taken appropriate steps to involve the department in future design and implementation, particularly where technology plays a role. This collaboration has already resulted in input that might not have been considered-and can open the door to further discussions that will have an impact on the university.

While we are currently phasing in license plate readers, as a result of this collaboration, we have also moved the main camera-technology stakeholders onto one network. We are in the process of building a working group to ensure network security and continued consistency among users.

DEBBIE RICHESON is director of parking and support services, San Diego State University.

Crisis-Ready Collaborations

With collaboration being such an important element in establishing a campus-safety infrastructure, EDUCAUSE presented the white paper, "The Role of IT in Campus Security and Emergency Management," at its 2008 Summit. The paper noted a number of recommendations for institution leaders, including the following:

  • Keep emergency management at the top of the institution's agenda, in terms of strategic discussions, budget allocations, and administrations priorities.
  • Recognize that preparation and response require collaboration across departments, throughout the community, and among and between campuses.
  • Strike a balance between the open, research-driven nature of the enterprise and the need to foster a safe campus environment.
  • Keep an eye on emerging technologies, constantly seeking new opportunities to leverage technology for emergency management and to evaluate existing and emerging tools.