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The Blue & Gray Press | November 23, 2017

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Garage Remains Without Cameras

By LAUREN ORSINI

Mary Washington has no current plans to fit the campus parking deck with security cameras, despite a recent sexual assault of a UMW student on the third floor of the structure.

According to UMW Media Spokesperson Teresa Mannix, there were several reasons why the administration did not install cameras in the parking deck while it was being built in 2006.

“The decision was based on a combination of whatever the Virginia Attorney General’s office advised the school as well as the cost of the camera system and the people would have to be hired to watch them,” Mannix said.

Vice President Rick Hurley said that the attorney general did not require the university install cameras in the parking deck.

“We were asking from a liability perspective, which means we wanted to know our liability if we put cameras in the garage,” Hurley said.

“The [Attorney General’s] office did not tell us we could or could not install cameras but our decision was based on their comments and advice,” he continued.

J.  Tucker Martin, the director of communications for Virginia Attorney General Bob MacDonald, refused to comment on the nature of the advice.

“The University of Mary Washington is our client, and we are unable to discuss legal advice we offer our client with the public,” Martin said.

Hurley said other safety factors contributed to the school’s decision not to install the cameras.

“Their advice was that cameras provide a false sense of security, are incapable of capturing views of all areas of a deck and are not helpful for crime prevention unless you have someone staring at the monitors 24/7 and even then, it does not mean they would prevent crime since it takes time for police to respond to dispatch calls,” Hurley said.

Hurley added that this decision was supported by the state crime prevention specialist, whom the school safety office hired to inspect the parking deck last week.

The specialist could not be reached for comment.

Hurley also said that the cost had been a factor, though he did not know what the price of installing cameras and hiring staff to watch them would be.

“I don’t know what the cost was at the time nor do I know it now. I am trying to put together an estimate,” he said.

However, there are current plans to put security cameras in the new parking garage to be built at Eagle Village.

“When designing [the Eagle Village deck], we felt it important to make it as secure as possible so that it would appeal to parents and students alike.  It is more isolated than our existing deck and we plan on charging a premium to park there,” Hurley said.

According to Hurley, it will cost $500 for students to attain parking permits for the Eagle Village deck, as opposed to $200 at the current deck.

This extra money will pay for extra features, including security cameras, which will have staff to monitor them on a regular basis.

According to Fredericksburg police spokesperson Natatia Bledsoe, a security camera would not have deterred the recent sexual assault on the parking deck.

“The problem with [security cameras] is that for them to be in real time, there has to be someone watching the screen at all times,” Bledsoe said.

However, Bledsoe said that while security cameras are not helpful in crime deterrence, one aided investigation of the abduction and murder of local delivery person Yong Hui Zhang in downtown Fredericksburg this July.

“Images taken from video surveillance cameras were instrumental in solving the crime and determining the abductors, however, there was no way to that this was a deterrent. There was nothing to stop them from putting Mr. Zhang in the trunk of their car,” Bledsoe said.

According to Bledsoe, the new parking deck built downtown on Sofia Street has security cameras installed.

Fredericksburg City Manager Phillip Rodenberg confirmed Bledsoe’s information.

“The parking garage has three sets of cameras stationed in strategic areas around both of the pay stations and the entrance to monitor cars that enter and leave,” Rodenberg said.

Fredericksburg finished construction of the Sofia Street parking deck in 2005, one year before UMW began building its own parking deck.

Students remain divided on whether cameras in the parking deck are necessary.

Junior Logan Metesh believes that the sexual assault at the parking deck would have been prevented if security cameras had been installed.

“If there had been security cameras, the rape would not have happened,” he said. “We would have known what color car the rapist drove and what he looked like, which would have been much better than an artist’s rendering. You can only capture so much in a drawing and human memory is only so good.”

Junior Mike Isaacson agrees with the administration’s decision not to install cameras.

“I see the administration’s point. Yes, [cameras] would be good to help find the guy after the fact, but they couldn’t stop what already happened,” he said.

Freshman Dalia Natour said that cameras would make her feel safer on campus.

“I have suddenly grown worried because there have been two assaults in the past six months on campus, and since our campus is neatly integrated into the downtown area it is easy for locals to gain access to the grounds,” Natour said.

“Security cameras helped catch the man that robbed my father’s grocery, so I trust that they would be able to assist in any future crimes that occur on campus,” she added.