Police use of cameras divides Penn State students

Natalie Inger (Daily Collegian, Penn State)

Now that police are monitoring the Beaver Canyon surveillance cameras, some Pennsylvania State University students feel their privacy rights are being infringed upon, while others see them as a necessary step toward eliminating downtown crime.

Originally, the State College Police Department did not monitor the surveillance cameras, which were installed at three different intersections along the 200 to 300 blocks of Beaver Avenue.

Some State College Borough Council members opposed using the cameras in a way that would infringe upon Penn State students’ rights.

The cameras could record footage and hold it for up to 14 days, but Penn State student auxiliary officers did not monitor the recordings until Thursday, State College police said. They will be monitored Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Off-Campus Student Union President Ryan Bennington said before the cameras were being watched live, their effectiveness was limited.

“The borough and the police department are taking the smart approach by viewing them live during the most trafficked times on Beaver Ave.,” Bennington said. “They will not be watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they are still unable to view into students’ and residents’ apartments – which I think is a big deal.”

Old video footage could be used for investigation purposes or to identify suspects in a crime, but watching old footage did not let police make any immediate or preventive interventions.

Bennington said he sees no point in protesting the presence of the cameras because the borough is unlikely to take them down.

“It is sad that the cameras are needed, but our students’ past history in Beaver Canyon only adds fuel to the fire in the minds of the borough and in the minds of the residents that these cameras should be there,” Bennington said.

American Civil Liberties Union of Penn State President Mike Stetor said the Beaver Canyon surveillance cameras are both intrusive and unnecessary.

“While I don’t think that cameras are going to descend us into an Orwellian State College, I do worry about the precedent being set,” he said. “The ‘Big Brother’ attitude that the state has adopted could hinder morale in the downtown area as well as cause people to change their daily routines.”

College Democrats President Alex Smith said monitoring the cameras through a live feed does not constitute any breach of civil rights.

“I tend to see these cameras as an extension of the police department,” Smith said. “Having a surveillance camera is comparable to having another police officer patrolling downtown.”

Smith said having the police closely survey the area through live recordings will allow them to respond more quickly to crime.

Attempts to contact College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative campus group, were unsuccessful.

Bennington said the borough was right to publicize the presence of the cameras, making students aware when and where they are being watched.

“I don’t think the cameras will stop the mob mentality that could sweep Beaver Canyon again, but I do hope they will protect students,” he said.