Keeping Tech Safe
Images flashed across 10 screens on the front wall.
There’s video of street action both in and around Georgia Tech’s campus. Take a look over there and you’ll see people walking along Fowler Street. Another screen shows action at the intersection of 10th Street and Hemphill Avenue.
Although the room feels like an air traffic control center, it’s really an enhanced operation center at the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD).
The department installed 26 cameras along the major arteries leading into campus. This creates a video fence around the perimeter of campus and allows for a broader view of what’s going on in real-time, Interim Chief Rob Connolly said.
“This is just another tool for us to keep the campus safe,” Connolly said.
In deciding where to place the cameras, GTPD reviewed prior incidents and access points to determine which locations would have the most impact. The department already has the ability to patrol more than 600 fixed building cameras scattered around campus.
Six students – who work part-time – patrol the cameras, seeing things officers can’t. The cameras provide aerial and broader street views and have the ability to observe different angles and zoom in and out.
“The officer’s vantage point is what can be seen on foot or in the car,” said Walter Warner, the operations center manager. “Now we have an extra set of eyes on campus.”
Video analysts provide dispatchers and officers with additional information about a suspect’s location and physical description. When there is an active incident, they can observe patrol officers to ensure their safety.
Connolly said GTPD is collecting data to measure the effectiveness of the cameras, and that effort is already making an impact.
A camera caught a young man inappropriately touching a female student. The operations center staff zoomed in on the footage, getting a close-up of the perpetrator. A police officer recognized the subject, having just stopped him for behaving suspiciously on campus.
Campus police warned other law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for the suspect, and he was quickly arrested at nearby Georgia State University.
Video analysts can access recordings up to a month old, said Jeremy Tallant, a senior majoring in chemical engineering who is the lead technical assistant. Tallant, 38, is a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy for eight years as an air traffic controller.
He and other analysts keep their eyes open for anything potentially dangerous, such as larceny, reckless driving, or students walking alone. If they notice a potentially hazardous situation, they alert a dispatcher who decides whether to send an officer to the location.
Tallant’s time at the operations center has changed how he views campus police.
"Many students think only of the patrol officers when they think of the police, but it is amazing how much more goes on behind the scenes,” Tallant said. “Everyone at the police department is dedicated to their mission and really cares about the students.”
Campus police expect their capabilities will only grow. In time, GTPD will have full interface with the Atlanta Police Department’s Video Integration Center.
“This is just the beginning,” Connolly said. “We are continuously finding new ways to fight crime on and around campus.”