In the past year, the presence of high-tech equipment on the Kansas University campus has been a blessing and a curse when it comes to crime.
On the one hand, police say a new set of digital surveillance cameras posted near KU athletic facilities and residence halls have helped cut down on crimes. But at the same time, thousands of dollars worth of audio-visual equipment have been disappearing from lecture halls, classrooms and offices.
"We're seeing more and more technology being put into classrooms, which makes them more and more attractive to potential thieves," said Schuyler Bailey, KU Police Department.
The 34 surveillance cameras, which cost about $380,000, were installed after a series of violent crimes in and around residence-hall parking lots starting in 2003. The cameras are controlled through computers inside the KU Public Safety Office on the third floor of Carruth-O'Leary Hall.
Student workers monitor the computer screens at night, using a mouse to control the zoom and panning action of the cameras. Some of the cameras are programmed to move back and forth regularly.
Police are sensitive about saying exactly where the cameras are and what they can see, but in general, about a third of the campus is visible from the eyes in the sky. Zoom in from a camera that's mounted atop Memorial Stadium, and you can see a close-up view of a man walking his dogs in the Walnut Grove or a groundskeeper trimming weeds on a sidewalk near the Campanile.
To protect privacy, the cameras that are trained on residence halls have a filter that causes the screen to go blank if someone zooms in too close on a resident's window.
Police said that crimes in the 10 campus parking lots where surveillance cameras have been installed dropped 23 percent in 2005. Overall, the total number of crimes on campus fell from 818 incidents reported in 2004 to 754 in 2005.
Rhonda Birdsong, a police department employee who coordinated the camera project, said some people were concerned at first about "Big Brother"-type monitoring. But she said that now, people who don't have cameras in their area of campus are asking for them.
"Considering the safety of the students and staff, they've been a benefit," she said.
Still, the cameras didn't stop thieves from cleaning out more than $56,000 worth of computer and audio-visual equipment that disappeared from offices and classrooms between August and May. Police said it was an unusually large amount to be stolen in one year.
During spring break, more than $23,000 worth of data projectors, microphones, computers and other high-tech equipment disappeared from Summerfield, Wescoe and Strong halls. In addition, someone tried to take a video projector mounted from the ceiling of a room in the Kansas Union.