Written by: Lauren Arant
Cameras that scan license plates and identify car owners to determine if they have active warrants or are banned from campus have been installed at every entrance at Southern Adventist University to increase safety on campus, according to Shawn Haas, associate director of Campus Safety.
Safety has always been a top priority for the university, which is why the equipment – known as Flock cameras – were added, said Southern President Ken Shaw. According to Haas, the camera locations include Colcord Drive, University Drive by the Duck Pond and College Drive East.
“We have Flock cameras at all of the entrances to the university, and these Flock cameras actually pick up license plate numbers off of vehicles,” said Shaw. “And they go into a national database, and if there is a warrant out for the arrest of the individual that owns that vehicle, then that national database automatically sends a message to the Collegedale Police Department.”
The cameras can also help police track down stolen property, such as bicycles or cars, because they are linked to a national database, according to Shaw.
“Let’s say you have a vehicle on campus, and it was stolen. The license plate is registered at the police department, and so they’re looking for that vehicle,” Shaw said. “So, when someone drives that vehicle back on campus, then the national database would pick that up and say, ‘This is a stolen vehicle.’ Again, it lets the Collegedale Police Department know, [and] they immediately will contact our Campus Safety. Then we can be responsive as well.”
Campus Safety was first made aware of the cameras during a training offered by Flock Safety, Haas said. The officers thought they would be a good investment to increase security. Haas said the cameras were installed successfully on Sept. 6, 2023.
“I found out that the Collegedale Police Department had a couple … so we just reached out to them to see how they were working, if it was kind of worth the money,” Haas said. “They showed a pretty big spreadsheet of the volume of stolen cars, warrants, things of that nature that lead to a lot of drug busts and things of that nature.”
According to Haas, the cameras are not being monitored by a person. Instead, they are actively watching the streets through AI. Essentially, they act as a digital gate for the university, he said.
“We have a lot of cameras on campus, but nothing that is actively watching,” Haas said. “You need a lot of people to watch all the cameras constantly, and that is AI.”
The Collegedale Police Department can access the footage, according to Haas. If a license plate is flagged, the cameras alert the police station in an average of 15 seconds, enabling the police to respond quickly.
Campus Safety is still performing test runs of the cameras to make sure they are positioned the best way possible. Two cameras are currently being repositioned, but the general location of each has stayed the same.
There have not been many concerns voiced about the cameras or how they will affect privacy, Haas said. He added that Flock safety cameras only monitor and track cars attached to warrants or thefts.
“Flock itself is built in a way that is very privacy driven, so they have a hard delete after thirty days,” Haas said. “Any searches that need to be done are logged, and you actually have to type in a case number or an investigative reason to do a search.”
Shaw said other communities are already using such cameras, and he feels it was a wise decision for the university to spend the money and invest in this security system.
According to both Shaw and Haas, there is no single driving force behind installing the cameras other than the university’s desire to increase safety and security on campus.
“This isn’t the silver bullet that solves all of our security problems,” said Shaw. “But it is, I think, a valid response to help us to have a more secure campus.”