Derek Harrison/The Daily Evergreen
Criminal justice majors will gain research and surveillance experience with the addition of security cameras in Adams Mall.
As The Daily Evergreen reported in fall 2011, the Pullman Police received a $300,000 grant from the Smart Policing Initiative, which will go toward putting in cameras at the College Hill site.
The hope is the cameras will improve public safety in three ways: by deterring people from committing crimes, forewarning those who watch the footage of developing situations and by allowing the police to use video evidence to prosecute people who have committed crimes, said Zachary Hays, an assistant professor in the WSU Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.
The grant has also opened up opportunities for WSU criminal justice majors to gain experience in the field.
Police held public forums last year to address concerns about the cameras. Officers explained they would only use the cameras to review past events.
Later, David Makin, a criminal justice instructor, suggested letting students from his Criminal Justice Special Topics class on technology watch live video feeds from the cameras, said Police Chief Gary Jenkins.
Students in the class have volunteered to watch the footage live on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, starting at midnight.
The camera feeds will go to the department and possibly into officer vehicles.
“As of right now, the police do not have the ability to monitor these cameras, and one of the things we know in terms of its importance is having people there watching those cameras, being able to provide feedback,” Makin said.
Without the students, the cameras would become ineffective because officers would only use them when they review old footage, Makin said
The students have undergone background checks, completed confidentiality agreements and performed observations at Whitcom, the 911 dispatch for area, to learn how the dispatch operates and understand what information officers need to know.
“I wouldn’t have imagined a class of pretty much all seniors were going to be that excited to give up their Saturday,” Makin said. “But those who stayed in the class wanted to do something that kind of gave back.”
To prepare for the cameras, a team of WSU faculty and staff members will gather student opinions about the Pullman Police Department and the upcoming camera installation.
Hays is one of the principle investigators in the research portion of the grant. He and the other principal investigators will survey WSU students about the cameras.
“Our job is to evaluate whether or not the cameras that the PD is going to install actually has the effect that they hope it does, which is to reduce crime and increase public safety,” Hays said.
To accomplish this evaluation, investigators will email students in three stages.
The first survey will focus on perceptions of the police before the cameras are installed. The second survey will come out a few months after installation, and the third will be sent out six to eight months after.
The surveys will ask for student opinions on the cameras. The results will help map whether perceptions of the police change, Hays said.
The research team has already sent the first electronic survey to a random sample of 5,000 WSU students. But, in light of the beginning of the school year and the delays in financial aid distribution, the response rate has been low.
“This is a subject that affects all WSU students, and pretty much everyone in the Pullman community,” Hays said, “and so we really (need) to know what they think about the project and the police department itself.”
The surveys should take no longer than 10 to 15 minutes to complete with a variety of question types, including yes or no answers and scales of agreement.
The camera installation has experienced a delay and must wait until the Pullman City Council approves the vendor contract, said Elysia Spencer, an administrative assistant with the police department. The next council meeting will be Sept. 25.
Anyone who wants to take the survey can find it on the Pullman Police Department website.