Oakland campus’ 1,400 security cameras help deter and investigate crime


There are about 1,400 security cameras on Pitt’s Oakland campus, Ted Fritz, vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management, told the Campus Utilization, Planning And Safety committee on March 21.

The cameras are used to deter crime, particularly property thefts, and for investigations, he said. The dome cameras have a 180 degree view, Fritz said, which means they can replace multiple cameras at the same location.

The University policy on surveillance cameras says they are for law enforcement purposes only. “They’re not for seeing whether John Smith was late for work today or did Joe Smith go to class today,” Fritz said.

They are limited to areas where the law says people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which means cameras will not be found in dorm rooms and restrooms. When there is a camera present, there are signs telling people they may be subject to monitoring, but Fritz said there isn’t someone monitoring every camera on campus 24 hours a day.

The footage is stored for about 28 days, before it is overwritten. If there’s a specific incident, that part of the recording is downloaded and preserved. It can only be released by Fritz’s office, or the offices of the senior vice chancellor for business and operations and University counsel.

For instance, if there’s a motor vehicle accident on Forbes Avenue and someone wants the footage for a lawsuit, they have to get a subpoena and go through University counsel.

Fritz said he’s been “amazed by how helpful the cameras are for quickly investigating incidents.”

He gave two examples. After a hit and run on Fifth Avenue, Pitt Police were able to determine the suspect’s license plate and eventually track the driver down. And after an assault outside of a residence hall earlier this semester, they were able to identify the suspect and make an arrest, with the cooperation of city police and a couple other area universities.

Fritz also discussed card readers at Pitt building entrances. He said for now the concierge stations will remain, as part of COVID-19 protocols, to monitor who’s coming in and out of buildings.

Some faculty have said that the card readers and limited access to buildings have increased safety. Deborah Miller, co-chair of the committee, said she and fellow chair David Salcido sent out a survey to Faculty Assembly members recently to get input on whether the swipe stations should remain and will share that information when it’s complete.

The security level of Pitt buildings is determined by a committee, Fritz said, which rates the spaces on different tiers. Tier 1, with the most restrictive access, includes several labs, research facilities and residence halls, while Tier 3 is for business offices, recreation centers and libraries. He said it’s been a couple years since the committee has met and it is planning to do so soon.

Fritz said they are open to input on building safety, and they’ve made adjustments over the years. One new initiative being developed is mobile credentialing, which will allow people to use a smartphone app to access buildings and areas. He said about half of the readers are compatible for that right now.

“It’s a very diverse campus as far as buildings go and one size does not necessarily fit all uses,” he said. “We try and tailor that security approach to each building and what the occupants desire in that building as well.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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