Pullman police are using five cameras perched on utility poles outside the Adams Mall area of College Hill to monitor a hot spot of criminal activity.
The department purchased those cameras with a $300,000 grant from the Smart Policing Initiative, a consortium of law enforcement agencies that studies more than 30 U.S. cities.
Amid dozens of fraternity and sorority houses, students flood the sidewalks at night, flocking to bars along Colorado Street. Researchers have found the area to be a hotbed for public disturbances and violent crime, said police Chief Gary Jenkins.
Criminal justice assistant professor Zachary Hays is working with Mike Gaffney, who oversees WSU’s emergency alert system, to study the impact of the cameras. The pair leads a group of criminal justice students who will watch a live feed from the cameras from about 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. every Thursday through Saturday until the study ends this fall.
The students will report crimes as they happen, hoping to speed up police responses. The footage can then come into play in police investigations and prosecutions, Hays said.
“We think that the cameras can influence crime in more ways than just deterring people,” he said. “And that’s kind of what we’re going to be testing.”
At first, Hays and Gaffney expect crime reports to increase with more eyes on scene. But later, they anticipate the cameras will lead to a decline in criminal activity as the public becomes more aware of their presence.
Hays and Gaffney recently surveyed more than 400 students to gather opinions about local police and the cameras. Few respondents showed concerns, and the researchers plan to issue two follow-up surveys in the coming months.
Though the study will conclude when the grant expires this fall, the cameras will stay in place, Jenkins said. Hays and Gaffney hope to extend their research.
And the police could even add more cameras to other hot spots around Pullman, like the intersections of Main Street and Grand Avenue in downtown, Gaffney said.
Though there may be good intentions behind bringing more cameras to Pullman, ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said the public should be leery of the enhanced surveillance.
“Typically, when there’s a proposal for government surveillance cameras, the reasons for it are often commendable, but the result can be growth of more and more cameras,” Honig said. “A lot of the research has found that they tend to just move crime to other areas.”