Barbara O'Connor, executive director of public safety
Photo courtesy Public Safety
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Security cameras inside and outside UI buildings, and inside Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District buses are among the newest campus police tools.
And for good reason.
"If criminals know there is a camera nearby, they're not likely to assault you," said Barbara O'Connor, the UI executive director of public safety.
In cities where surveillance programs have been deployed, there has been a decrease in crime, she said.
That's not the case on campus - yet.
Crimes in the wider campus district have gone up, but sex offenses and aggravated assaults that have occurred on campus property have decreased since 2007, O'Connor said. The wider campus district is the area encompassed by Race Street to Neil Street and Windsor Road to University Avenue.
The most recent statistics include incidents that occurred from Sept. 1, 2009, to Aug. 31, 2010. During that period, incidents of aggravated assaults and batteries increased, with 42 incidents, up from 35 during the same period the previous year. Robberies were up 45 percent; there were 45 robberies in 2009-10 compared with 31 the year before. Other sex offenses, which include public indecency and peeping toms, numbered 17 incidents in 2009-10 compared with five in the previous year.
There were 14 incidents of reported criminal sexual assaults in the current reporting year compared with 22 in 2008-09.
Jeff Christensen, deputy chief of police and assistant director of public safety, said the percentage of crime incidents fluctuates year to year.
For example, statistics for September 2010 show aggravated assaults and batteries down compared to the previous year: There were three in 2010 compared with four in 2009. But robberies were up by one incident this year with four in September 2010 compared with three in September 2009.
The victims of most crimes of theft or aggravated assault in the campus area tend to be undergraduate students away from home for the first time. Criminals know an unsuspecting victim when they see one, said O'Connor, who also is the UI police chief.
"They're at an age when they think that bad things won't happen to them, and they don't fully grasp the danger they could be in," she said.
Most such attacks tend to happen when victims - mostly students - are alone late at night, O'Connor said, although some attacks have been occurring earlier in the evening.
To avoid being a victim of crime, people should be aware of their surroundings if they're walking alone at night, and programs like Safe Walks should be utilized if someone doesn't feel safe, she said.
Safe Walks is a program that allows anyone on campus to call for a walking escort if they don't feel safe by themselves at night. The service, available 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, can be reached at 333-1216.
Campus police has a strong partnership with the city of Champaign, O'Connor said. "We've spent money on additional overtime to supply the city with officers to help with (their department)," she said.
Christensen said the additional officers are used in special details in the evenings to try to prevent attacks and to identify and arrest offenders if attacks occur.
There have been no arrests as a result of the additional camera surveillance at this point, Christensen said.
Funded by the chancellor's office, 20 cameras were installed outside buildings at the beginning of the summer. The data from the cameras is stored at Campus Information Technology and Educational Services and is accessed during crime investigations. The cameras are not monitored in real time.
"I think now that we've got the 20 exterior cameras deployed, they have to prove their usefulness," O'Connor said. "There is no immediate plan to add more. I think we want to look toward expanding it (if it's proven to be successful)."
The campus also has 200 security cameras in buildings.
The campus police-MTD partnership will be expanded and updated so that data from cameras on buses and at bus stops will be accessible to police, O'Connor said. u