URBANA — Be sure to smile the next time you walk through the University of Illinois campus.
There's a good chance you are being watched on a UI police camera.
UI police have increased the number of surveillance cameras monitoring activity in the campus area from 13 in 2008 to 900 today, and the police department plans on adding another 200 cameras before the end of 2013.
UI Police Chief Jeff Christensen said the effort is part of the department's efforts to improve the force's use of technology, including the installation of additional cameras around the campus.
"It has always been our intention to try to cover as much of the campus as we can," said UI police Detective Tim Hetrick, who has led the department's security camera project. "The cameras help us to solve reported crimes that couldn't be solved any other way."
Hetrick said UI police placed its first 13 cameras in 2008 in food storage facilities on campus out of concern about theft.
"Things had a tendency to walk out the doors," he said.
In 2009, after the cameras were credited for reducing the number of food thefts, Hetrick said, UI police asked for and got money from the chancellor's office to pay for 18 exterior cameras along campus streets that police believed criminals often used.
"Since then our use of cameras has grown incredibly," he said.
Hetrick estimates the university has spent more than $2 million on surveillance cameras since 2008, with the lion's share of the money provided by campus departments seeking increased security.
"The individual departments are responsible for paying for the cameras and service," he said. "But it has been a really good investment."
A UI security camera is credited for helping to identify a man in connection with a robbery outside a campus coffee shop in October 2011.
Dennis H. Boston IV, now 20, who listed an address in the 500 block of East Daniel Street, was charged with armed robbery and aggravated robbery after he allegedly robbed a 48-year-old Champaign man of his iPad outside the Espresso Royale, 602 E. Daniel St., C.
Assistant States Attorney Dan Clifton said UI police had video from security cameras that showed two men approaching the victim as he sat at a table and one grabbing his iPad. When the victim reacted, one of them showed him a gun.
Clifton said the video showed the robber going into an apartment at 510 E. Daniel St., the same building that Boston listed as his address.
Police also recovered the iPad from a man who said he bought it from Boston.
"We recovered the iPad within a few hours after the video came out because the person who bought the iPad contacted police and said, 'I think I just bought the stolen iPad.'"
Boston's next court appearance has been set for April 23.
Just last month UI security cameras were used to determine that a Feb. 7 Dumpster fire in the south parking lot of the Oak Street Library Facility, 809 S. Oak St., was an arson.
While the initial cause of the fire was listed as undetermined, police detectives doing a follow-up investigation found a security video showing a person lighting the fire.
Hetrick said UI police have also used videos at the Activities and Recreation Center to arrest people who steal possessions from people exercising there.
"We often have no suspect information until we go back and look at the videos," Hetrick said.
Hetrick said UI police worked with crime analysts from the Champaign and Urbana police departments to target locations to place surveillance cameras.
"Some of the areas that are most traveled by the criminal element are locations that we looked at," Hetrick said.
Following a series of reports about intruders sneaking into university residence halls to spy on women in restrooms and showers, Hetrick said, UI police placed security cameras at the various entrances and exits.
"The incidents suddenly stopped after that," Hetrick said. "I'd like to think the presence of the cameras has prevented crimes from taking place."
After the university libraries reported a series of thefts of DVDs from their collections, Hetrick said, UI police stepped up the installation of cameras in those buildings.
"We got identification off the video footage and made arrests," he said.
Hetrick said the cameras so far have been to investigate reported or suspected crimes.
"We don't have any active monitoring," he said. "Nobody sits there and monitors all the cameras. Unfortunately we don't have the manpower to sit and watch.
"We go back after the fact and look for evidence after the crime has occurred."
The images from all 900 cameras are sent to a centralized database on the university campus. The images are stored on a server for a minimum of 30 days.
"We don't lose video a week after a crime," he said. "If some images turn out to be evidence, we record them on a DVD and place the DVD in our evidence room."
UI police officers can access those images from computers across the campus.
"I or any of the police officers can access all 900 cameras from just about any place I'm at on campus," he said.
Hetrick said the type of camera used varies by location and can cost anywhere from $300 to $3,000 each, depending on whether they are inside or outside, the amount of lighting available at the desired location and whether infrared lighting is needed.
"In certain locations we use a camera called the Lightfinder that provides outstanding images in poor lighting areas," Hetrick said. "It's an awesome camera that can find light, bring it into the camera and actually give you a color picture at night."
Hetrick designs the locations for cameras and the views they provide.
"I consider the types of crime we are trying to prevent, the lighting conditions and what camera will best see what we need to see," he said. "We want to make sure they are out of vandalism reach so they aren't tampered with, but we also want to make sure they are at a height that gives us the best view."
Areas targeted for cameras include building entrances and exits, routes frequently traveled by students to and from campus and to and from campus area bars.
While analog security cameras used by some area businesses often provide out-of-focus images, Hetrick said, the university uses more sophisticated equipment.
"Focus is a problem with the older analog security systems. There's no zooming in after the fact," Hetrick said. "We use Internet protocol systems that work like a digital camera. With the Internet protocol systems, you can dig deeper into the picture and bring it out a little bit. We can make a picture larger or more clear.
"It isn't as easy as you see on CSI, but our images can be enhanced."
Hetrick said a university policy prevents the cameras from being used for non-police purposes.
"We have a policy that is very cut and dried about what we can and cannot do," Hetrick said. "For example, the cameras can't be used by human resources to check when employees come to work, and the cameras can't be used to look inside windows. They are for crime."
He said one emphasis for 2013 is to install additional cameras on Green Street between First and Wright streets.
"It's a major thoroughfare, and it is a hot spot for potential crime," he said. "These cameras are for the safety of the public and the students and staff. That's really what it's all about."
Security cameras on the UI campus
Source: University of Illinois Police Department