Students push for cameras in parking garages

Supporters say cameras are a deterrent against violent crime.

Although some students are pushing for cameras in parking garages, police said the garages on campus are safe.

Missouri Students Association President-elect Jordan Paul said he spoke with MUPD officers about installing cameras in parking garages while campaigning this semester. He said he wanted cameras in areas other than vehicular entrances, including stairwells, and that MSA officers were receptive to the idea.

Paul said some people feel unsafe in garages and that those garages are less safe than other areas on campus.

MU Police Department Capt. Brian Weimer disagrees.

"There is nothing to say parking garages are more dangerous than other places on campus," Weimer said.

MU Parking and Transportation Director Jim Joy said campus garages are safe, but that vandalism has been an ongoing issue.

"I'm not aware of a single assault of any type in those areas," Joy said.

In 2007, 14 cases of vandalism were reported in Hitt Street Garage, and 14 were reported in the Virginia Avenue Garage, according to crime reports from MUPD. Both of these garages also had one assault report each. The Conley Avenue Garage and the Turner Avenue Garage both also had assaults reported in both 2006 and 2007. Fourteen cases of larceny were reported in the Virginia Avenue garage and 11 cases of vandalism were reported in the Hitt Street Garage.

In 2004, a visiting professor was killed in the Maryland Avenue Garage. The case is still unsolved.

Last year, MUPD arrested four men for vandalizing more than 40 cars in the Virginia Avenue Garage.

Junior Andrew Dumas had a mark on the right side of his car and his left rear tire was slashed. Students were asked to get estimates for the damage done to their cars and turn them into MUPD, but MUPD hasn't contacted him about his damages, he said.

Dumas said he felt "defeated" after hearing from an officer that there had been no progress on his case. He had a parking pass for Hitt Street Garage over the summer with no problems, but chose not to renew his parking pass for the next semester.

Junior Samantha Hirshberg said she knows someone whose car was vandalized in a parking garage, but she said she still feels safe.

"Cameras couldn't hurt," Hirshberg said.

There aren't cameras in every garage, but as more funding becomes available, more cameras may be installed.

In 2005, there was one case of vandalism in the Virginia Avenue Garage and five cases of vandalism in the Hitt Street Garage. There were three drug cases and two assault cases in the Virginia Avenue Garage in 2005.

MSA Vice President-elect Colleen Hoffman said she wants cameras added to the garages to address student safety concerns.

"I know students who don't want to park in the garages because they don't feel safe," Hoffman said.

To fund the program, Hoffman said she is hoping to start a program in which an organization would match MSA's monetary contribution to cameras.

Hoffman would also like to add emergency phones to more areas on campus.

Paul said there are a few options for funding the installation of the new cameras. There is roughly $100,000 in carryover funds that could be used. The budget increases as enrollment increases, so those increases could also be used to fund the project.

Weimer said he doesn't know about research that would indicate cameras would help student safety. While only the Virginia Avenue and Maryland Avenue garages currently have cameras, every garage on campus has emergency phones.

Cameras are being installed in the garages under construction and there are plans to add cameras to Hitt Street Garage this year. Joy said there is no timetable for installing cameras in the remaining garages.

The budget to add cameras to the campus parking garages is part of the annual operations budget, but Joy said the cameras are not a large concern.

"I don't know of anyone who would say they aren't concerned with safety, but I'm not aware of anyone who thinks it's a big issue," Joy said.

Weimer said there are still safety measures in place to help students feel secure on campus, including the safety walk.

For the past few years, crime in campus parking garages has been higher than crime in Columbia's downtown parking garages. Since 2001, the parking garage on Eighth Street has reported 13 cases of vandalism, eight larcenies and no assaults, and the Seventh Street garage has had nine vandalisms, seven larcenies and one assault.

The majority of city parking garages located downtown have cameras, but Columbia Police Lt. Dianne Bernhard said they are only monitored when there is a problem.

The city also has a downtown officer who works on a bicycle or a Segway and patrols the parking garages.

Bernhard said the cameras have been effective at capturing crime, and they are a deterrent once the public know they're there.

"Cameras make people feel more safe," Bernhard said.

Transportation Manager Kenneth Koopmans agrees the cameras have been helpful in the parking garages downtown.

Public Works Director John Glascock handles the budget for the cameras in the garages and agrees the cameras are deterrents for violent crimes. Glascock said the public can set up meetings to discuss any concerns over the parking garages downtown.

In her 16 years with CPD, Bernhard said graffiti has been the most common incident in garages, and that violent crimes aren't a common occurrence.

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