-Background information and goals of SPI/SCI initiatives
-Explain why Adams Mall was selected
-SCI significance in high-profile David Warner case
-Expert opinion, the future of SCI, etc.
Criminals Caught On Camera: WSU surveillance on Adams Mall has been effective
By: Zack Menchel
Pullman, Wash When it comes to catching criminals, law enforcement officials know that a picture really can be worth a thousand words.
At least that’s the message being conveyed at Washington State University with the implementation of surveillance cameras on Adams Mall in February of last year.
The project, known as the Safety Camera Initiative took shape in the fall of 2011 with the Pullman Police Department’s acceptance of a $300,000 grant from the Smart Policing Initiative, a program that intends to provide police officers with the best new tools and information to aid them in apprehending criminals.
“We were initially a bit skeptical that we’d even receive the grant because we really don’t have that big of a crime problem in comparison to other cities,” said Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins.
“I think we met their criteria by having a community that’s close to a major university as well as having security cameras to monitor crime in a deemed hot spot area.”
According to Jenkins, public meetings were held before the implementation of the project in order to get community input on policy because the police were sensitive to privacy concerns that the public might have.
Located on the northeast hill, also known as College Hill or “Greek row”, Adams Mall is the epicenter of nearly all violent crime and public disorder calls in the city of Pullman.
According to the Smart Policing Initiative website, the three main focuses of the SCI are to “deter individuals from engaging in criminal behavior in the target area, increase investigation of previously unreported crimes, and increase police case clearance rates.”
“The premise behind is that we’re wondering if through the aid of another set of eyes, so to speak, we could possibly deter crime in the area altogether,” said Pullman Police administrative assistant Elysia Spencer, a grant manager for the project.
“At the very least, we seek to facilitate higher clearance, or arrest rates if crimes do persist in the area.”
WSU criminal justice professor Dr. David A. Makin originally volunteered his students to monitor the cameras back in 2011 but he altered the program this year to offer internship credit.
“I have about 12 students who have been specially selected and trained by Pullman P.D. and myself on how to use the cameras, write reports, and engage in spatial learning,” said Makin.
He said students can monitor the cameras at virtually any time but the typical hours range from 10 p.m.- 2 a.m.
Having students monitor the daily activity was not the original plan but Makin’s idea has provided a great deal of help to police officers who already struggle multi-task all throughout the day.
“The security cameras on Adams Mall have paid dividends and been a service to the university as well as the surrounding community in just a short time,” said senior criminal justice major Anthony Kuntz.
“I only wish I would have been able to participate in the program this year because I’ve heard good things from some of my classmates about their experience with it.”
The SCI played a significant role in both the rounding up of witnesses, as well as the eventual apprehension of suspects in the brutal beating of WSU professor David Warner last spring.
In fact, it was one of Makin’s students who first discovered the crime taking place on camera.
When witnesses failed to come forward, archive footage taken by the cameras at Adams Mall were put to the test.
“There is a unique situation when the police have to deal with a university population,” said Spencer.
“Sometimes there is often a code of silence in that once the blue lights flash and the cops show up, nobody saw anything.”
When it became apparent that the Adams Mall cameras had also captured the primary suspects in the Warner case, an anonymous tip about the suspects from the west side of the state became the key piece of evidence to crack the case.
Both Jenkins and Spencer attribute social media as well as local and regional news coverage that led to that tip and the eventual capture of the individuals responsible for the assault.
“We initially had no suspects in the case, just some descriptions,” said Jenkins.
“I think it’s ultimately because we had some relatively good video of the suspects in that case that made media outlets willing to pay more attention to the story.”
“The videos were most definitely crucial in helping to identify the suspects and also exactly what happened that night,” Jenkins added.
It is to Makin’s understanding that there are currently no plans to expand the use of security cameras at WSU but that campus police has expressed interest in the idea.
He said data evaluations regarding the impact of the cameras would need to be completed before any commitment to expansion will be entertained.
“We do have the capacity and ability to expand with more cameras on campus but part of that will be cost and whether or not there are other suitable locations to place the cameras,” said Jenkins.
Whether the program grows, or stays the same, it is clear that it has been a resounding success thus far and provided an invaluable experience to the future faces of justice at WSU.
“The intent of the program was to find out how to impart crime prevention and improve public safety,” said Makin.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so we’ll continue the evaluation process and look forward to seeing what we can find towards a proactive resolution.”
-Gary Jenkins, Chief of Police, Pullman P.D.
-Elysia Spencer, Administrative Asst./SCI Project Grant Manager, Pullman P.D.
-Dr. David A. Makin, WSU Criminal Justice Professor, Project Facilitator
-Anthony Kuntz, WSU Criminal Justice Major
David Makin Interview Audio: