Campus security goes high tech

February 05, 2004, vol. 29, no. 3
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Nick Coutu doesn't take it personally that the better he and his staff do their jobs, the less likely it is that anyone will notice.

The director of campus security since 1995, Coutu and his team work diligently to ensure the safety of the SFU community. “If we're doing our job, then people should expect to feel safe and secure up here, and I believe they generally do,” says the former Ontario police officer.

But he does, at times, find it challenging that the community tends to take that comfort level for granted: “I don't think many people are aware of the complexity of the infrastructure required to provide that safety net on campus. When you see our guards on patrol, you're only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We've made significant technological advancements that I think make our campus security second to none in this province.”

The university population has grown rapidly since Coutu arrived, but security staffing levels haven't, so Coutu introduced state-of-the-art digital closed-circuit cameras (CCTVs) to give his team more eyes around campus. He increased lighting in dark corners, and cut back trees and foliage around pathways and parking lots to increase visibility.

He introduced 24 code blue emergency phones in strategic areas, and converted some pay phones around campus into direct-line emergency phones. Coutu says the new technology is “just a tool” and cautions that it can't and won't solve all security problems by itself. “Sometimes equipment mal-functions, or a phone is disconnected due to construction. But when there's a gap in our system, we know it, and we ramp up our foot and bike patrols.”

Coutu credits the CCTVs with significantly improving security standards on campus. This summer, for example, his team caught a credit card thief thanks to the cameras. “We noticed this guy behaving suspiciously in one of the pay parking lots. He was using a stolen credit card to buy parking tickets, and then selling them to individuals and pocketing the money.”

Coutu says criminal activity at SFU is “much more likely to be crimes of opportunity than crimes of intent. People leave a laptop in the library, or a purse on a desk, or skis in a car, and then are surprised when they are stolen,” he says, shaking his head.

Of the many calls security received during the first three weeks of January, 21 were about suspicious persons on campus, a statistic that Coutu finds heartening rather than troubling. “It proves the message is getting out that people should call us if they suspect someone might be trying to do a little inappropriate shopping at SFU.”

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