Virtual, and Reality

Marquette University implements new information center technology

Marquette University may not have Robocop, but school public safety officials are convinced they’ve got the next best thing—a virtual surveillance system that could make a dent in campus crime. What campus today isn’t thinking about and implementing key security plans?

Established in 1881, Marquette University is a private Catholic Jesuit institution located in the heart of Milwaukee. The university has more than 11,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty and staff.

In its effort to continually improve crime prevention and emergency preparedness, Marquette’s Department of Public Safety recently completed the initial phase of installation of a new Command Information Center. The CIC integrates new and existing cameras with alarm systems on the Marquette campus and near off-campus neighborhood to monitor suspicious activity.

“Marquette places a high priority, in terms of human resources, technology and equipment, on the safety and security of our students and staff,” said the Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., university president. “On surveys of student life, Marquette students report they feel safe on campus. They often cite the visible presence of our public safety officers, student patrols and LIMO vans, as well as the presence of Milwaukee Police Department patrol cars, mounted police and bicycle units.”

Advanced Patrolling
Clearly, safety and security of the university students is paramount. “The CIC is essentially a force-multiplier for the department. It puts more eyes on the street, from a virtual patrolling sense,” said university Public Safety Chief Larry Rickard. “It gives us another strong, reliable tool to monitor and patrol our campus areas.”

Marquette’s CIC is key to its crimefighting efforts in two ways. First, the technology is helpful in spotting suspicious activity, enabling officers to respond to and prevent criminal activity. In some cases, the technology helps apprehend suspects before or as a crime occurs. Secondly, public safety officers can use this surveillance to identify and apprehend suspects after an offense and subsequently aid in the prosecution of criminal cases.

Marquette’s CIC incorporates Software House’s C-Cure 800 System access controls and alarms with American Dynamic’s Intellex DVR units under an Aegis Software integration. This configuration allows a single operator at a station to have complete command and control of all C-Cure and Intellex functions and views, including the ability to automatically lock down individual buildings or conduct a mass lockdown of all academic buildings within seconds.

The CIC concept has two public safety dispatchers/monitors working together. One CIC dispatcher/monitor is located adjacent to the main dispatch center in the video wall monitoring room. The second works in the main dispatch area answering phones, dispatching calls and conducting other communication-related functions. Both dispatchers/monitors have access control and virtual patrolling capabilities and can configure devices; select video segments by time, date and alarm; and use the smart search function or view multiple live video segments of an area 24/7.

The video display technology uses six 50-inch Christie digital video wall screens joined with large, rear projection-style monitors to call up and display any type of custom view that the operator selects from the matrix switch or Aegis system. The video wall screens are attractive and functional. They are stackable, scalable monitors capable of multiple views and can combine into one large integrated view of all units as the operator dictates.

Marquette’s CIC software alerts DPS officers under certain circumstances, such as panic alarms, when the system can immediately bring up the specific camera view associated with the area where the alarm was activated. Then the system displays a second view that automatically plays the 30 seconds preceding the alarm activation. This allows the CIC operator to more efficiently dispatch responding officers.

The CIC screens show feeds from both off- and on-campus wireless mesh cameras, which are positioned in all residence halls, the library, the student union, university parking lots/structures and other areas. The system represents the latest in crime prevention and response technology.

Technology Tackles Crime
Research has demonstrated the success of virtual patrol models in law enforcement agencies nationwide with a direct impact on the reduction of crime in certain parks and other high-crime areas. Major successes in the wider use of CCTVs and the CIC model have been seen at police departments in cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

Marquette University is pursuing city approval to use pole-mounted signage, which will be posted in neighborhoods where CCTVs are in place to remind and assure students, faculty, staff and the community that these areas may be under Marquette’s public safety surveillance.

“We have more than 200 Blue Light phones on and off campus, and we have a professional, significant and effective officer presence on the street, with bike, foot and vehicle patrols,” Rickard said. “However, our newly constructed CIC center and associated system integration of alarms and cameras will create an even stronger deterrent.”

Marquette officials feel the goal of adding advanced technology and increasing the number of cameras on and around campus isn’t just to apprehend criminals, but to deter crime from occurring.

“Camera surveillance and posted signage around campus indicating that we may be watching should certainly modify some criminal behavior. Criminals are risk-averse, and if the bad guys know they are being monitored for illegal activity, there is a real good chance they will go elsewhere,” Rickard said.

Noticeable Results
Rickard said his department recognizes there are no guarantees that crime will drop, even with these technological advances. However, his officers have seen firsthand evidence that an enhanced digital surveillance strategy can be extremely beneficial.

“We have experienced false reports being filed with our department that rose to the level of seriousness where a campus- wide alert needed to be issued quickly,” Rickard said. “In one case, after immediately reviewing the digital footage of an alleged incident of an armed robbery on campus, we quickly discovered that the alleged victim had falsely reported it.

“Further investigation of the digital footage of the supposed crime scene found that the alleged victim was not a victim of a violent crime at all, but rather a distraught person needing psychological help. This technology saved a great deal of campus-wide anxiety.”

Besides saving valuable hours in security officer patrol time, Marquette’s sophisticated and highly effective video surveillance system could become a best-practices model for other campuses to follow.

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