Students walking around campus may notice the occasional camera outside of a building or even between tree branches and fear that Big Brother is watching them, but campus officials said the cameras are there to protect students.
A closed-circuit television security system is used by Campus Safety and the UT Police Deaprtment to bolster safety on the Forty Acres. Jimmy Johnson, assistant vice president for campus safety, said there are thousands of cameras located around campus, but he cannot share exact numbers or locations for security reasons.
Johnson said his department mostly uses the video to monitor events such as football games and commencement.
“Surveillance isn’t something that’s in the vocabulary of the University,” Johnson said. “I would say … while there is camera coverage, no one is sitting there watching you 24/7.”
UTPD assistant chief Don Verett said the department not only uses the system for event awareness but also as an tool during criminal investigations. Videos are kept for 30 days after they are recorded.
“They are viewed on an as-needed basis,” Verett said. “They are not monitored on a continuous basis by UTPD. They provide real time situational awareness during critical events and invaluable forensic evidence during criminal investigations.”
Recently, UTPD has used the cameras to try to identify the man who punched another man after the UT vs. University of Southern California football game and to find a good Samaritan who offered assistance during a fatal bus crash involving a cyclist and a Capital Metro bus in January.
Johnson said the cameras have also been used in the past in homicide investigations on campus. The footage from the College of Liberal Arts building served as key evidence that helped identify Haruka Weiser’s killer in 2016.
“One of the things that we tried to do is enhance our security posture,” Johnson said. “(Following) the two homicides on campus, we looked at how we can add robust, forensic evidence collection abilities.”
Economics sophomore Milia Daher said one of the first things her parents did when she came to UT was buy her pepper spray because of the recent student deaths. Daher said knowing there are cameras around campus makes her feel a little safer.
“I just have to be aware of everything at all times,” Daher said. “I’m totally for cameras, especially given the circumstances UT has had in the past few years regarding student safety. I don’t see a problem with them.”
The number of security cameras has increased exponentially in some areas, such as in the stadium, where the number of cameras has increased from four to about 100. However, there are still some spots on campus where it is nearly impossible to place cameras because of infrastructure and expense.
Johnson said they are always looking to innovate, and the safety of students is one of his top priorities.
“There’s not a night I go to bed, and I don’t think about (our) 51,383 students,” Johnson said. “To be able to sleep at night, I know that we have a robust system, safety protocols and tools in place that will enable us to provide a safe environment here on campus.”