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Campus forums solicit opinions about security camera installation, workforce report
April 4, 2011
Several faculty, students and staff at the Community College of Rhode Island expressed opinions about a proposal to install security cameras on CCRI’s campuses during an open forum last week.
CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale led forums on each campus that discussed the camera proposal as well as the findings of the CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission report, but most of the discussion in Warwick on March 31 was about the camera proposal.
Di Pasquale said the idea was first introduced in a petition that more than 100 students, staff and faculty signed at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln. They said they felt unsafe at school and asked for cameras to be installed after an attempted sexual assault of a female student on campus in spring 2009.
Cameras also would be installed in Providence, prompted by an incident in January 2010 in which armed gang members invaded the campus looking for a particular student, who was not in class at the time. Fortunately, they left without violence but campus security had to call Providence Police to deal with the threat.
CCRI Acting Director of Security Richard Robinson said that, while the presence of cameras would not have prevented these crimes, they could have helped officers determine the culprits.
He said cameras also could be useful in helping officers return stolen property, find hit-and-run drivers in the parking lots and resolve disputes from automobile accidents.
Robinson said that, while officers on duty could watch the video feeds in the campus police offices, there would not be an officer watching at all times. Footage only would be reviewed if there was an incident.
Robinson said the cameras would not be placed in all locations; they will only be in areas such as parking lots and hallways where seclusion, particularly at night, makes a crime more likely to occur.
Installing cameras at the Providence and Lincoln campuses would carry a one-time cost of $600,000, with additional money needed for maintenance and upkeep over the years.
CCRI is the only college or university in Rhode Island that does not use security cameras.
Several faculty members at the Knight Campus said they sometimes feel unsafe, particularly at night and in isolated parts of the megastructure, and want cameras to be installed at that campus as well.
Other faculty members said they thought that additional campus police officers would be more effective than cameras in increasing security.
One student at the forum who works as a security guard at the Providence Place Mall said that a combination of manned video surveillance and additional officers is the best option.
Several other students were concerned about the cost of the new system or about creating a culture of surveillance at CCRI. One said that a stronger sense of community and better and more frequent communication from the administration would help deter crime.
Di Pasquale said that the college cannot afford to hire more officers at this time, and that their continued salary and benefits over the years would be far more expensive than the security camera system.
Robinson said there are 21 campus police officers for CCRI’s four campuses, down from 30, who work three shifts. “We haven’t increased our personnel but we’ve increased what we need to do with those personnel,” he said.
College Police Officer Brian Burke said he is strongly in favor of security cameras to assist the officers. “A camera is used for the protection of people [in a location] when a person can’t constantly be there,” he said.
Burke said that cameras deter petty crime and help police track down suspects after the fact. Their effectiveness is the reason why cameras can be found in so many stores, campuses, parking garages and public places, he said.
Di Pasquale said no decision has been reached about whether to install security cameras, and further discussion will occur.
“This isn’t just about deciding ‘cameras or no cameras,’” he said, “This is about making a plan for our security.”
The other primary topic of the open forums was to share the recommendations of the CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission report, which can be seen in full on the president’s website.
Di Pasquale said the latest unemployment figures for Rhode Island show about 70,000 people out of work, but some experts say that the number is closer to 100,000.
As these people look for work, they will find that one-third of all new jobs require at least an associate degree. To make matters worse, only 21 out of 100 high school graduates will earn an associate degree or higher, and the high school drop-out rate in Rhode Island is nearly 30 percent. This creates a “skills gap” in which job-seekers lack the skills or education that they need for employment.
To help alleviate unemployment and reduce this gap, the report recommended that the state enact legislation to create a career pathway system driven by industry needs. Di Pasquale said this legislation was passed and the college has been working closely with Rhode Island businesses to train graduates for specific jobs.
The other recommendations were to strengthen the state’s capacity to increase the skill levels of its work force and encourage a culture of innovation to meet employer needs. Di Pasquale said this means, in part, reducing the bureaucracy of the state’s purchasing procedures.
Lastly, the commission said that all of its recommendations must be funded in full to achieve their goals.
Some professors expressed concerns that by following the letter of these recommendations too closely, CCRI will become too focused on direct job skills and stray from pure academics.
Di Pasquale said that the college will not lose sight of its academic strengths and continue to insist that all students graduate with a strong liberal arts core, no matter their major.
He said that CCRI has maintained high enrollment during the economic downturn in part by offering a quality, complete education at low cost.
“We have weathered this storm well because we have held true to our core,” he said.
“[The liberal arts] help build who we are; they help build the educated person.”