USC Campus Security: Taking It to the Streets
The University of Southern California has drastically reduced violent crimes by introducing video surveillance, security ambassadors and community programs into the neighborhoods surrounding campus.
Camera operators monitor the dome cameras around campus 24 hours a day in a command center located in USC's Department of Public Safety office.
When Carey Drayton took the position of executive director and chief at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Department of Public Safety in 2006, violent crime had become a serious issue in the areas surrounding campus. In order to protect students, staff and faculty, Drayton and his department recognized that they would have to extend their influence into the nearby neighborhoods.
Now, USC campus police, security ambassadors and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) monitor a 6-square-mile area that includes the physical campus and residential and commercial areas. The department utilizes 72 Pelco Spectra dome cameras and 50 license plate recognition cameras, in addition to T3 patrol vehicles and community outreach programs.
The changes have reduced Clery Act-reported crimes by more than 50 percent since 2006, according to Drayton.
Criminals Don’t Have Anywhere to Work
Drayton says that USC has layered various security methods as part of a strategy to minimize spaces in which crimes can occur.
“‘Minimizing spaces’ just means we want to create the smallest window of opportunity and geography for the criminal to commit a crime,” Drayton explains. “So not only do we have security officers on T3s — three-wheeled personal mobility vehicles — we also have LAPD and our officers patrolling the streets in cars. We have our security officers and police officers on bikes, and then we have stationary security ambassadors layered in between the areas where there are cameras.”
Installing dome cameras on light poles in the neighborhoods bordering USC’s campus reduced the number of robberies from 22 to zero in a six month period in 2006. Drayton explains that this is the result of not just the technology, but a combination of effective patrols and the presence of video surveillance.
“We settled on a bold plan by which we would put technology and people in the areas where the crime was occurring,” he explains. “Specifically we targeted robberies and we looked at the behaviors associated with those robberies. We were able to effectively push crime away from that area using this combination of technology and people.”
Fighting Crime is an ‘Evolving Process’
However, Drayton warns that criminals will adapt to changes in security over time. Keeping USC safe is “a constant and evolving process.”
After the initial drop in crime following USC’s 2006 camera installation, criminals “began to change their M.O.,” Drayton says. “They were coming in on foot and on bicycles and just roaming the streets trying to blend in.”
In order to prevent a resurgence of crime, the department established 34 security ambassador positions in 2009, which are filled by approximately 50 personnel from Contemporary Services Corporation, a peer group security and crowd management firm.
“Security ambassadors are strategically located between where we don’t have cameras and where students are traveling,” Drayton explains. The ambassadors supplement the work of 130 nonsworn officers and 100 other officers who have policing powers through a memorandum of understanding with the LAPD.
“The security ambassadors are not with the actual department — we contract them to be our extra eyes and ears,” says USC Public Safety Officer Aaron Pettus. “If something does happen out on the street, they have radios to contact us so we can respond. It is a part of Chief Drayton’s vision of minimizing spaces. His philosophy is if we minimize the spaces that crimes can occur by having extra eyes and ears, the crime will decrease. It’s proven correct so far.”
Camera Operators Perform ‘Video Patrol’
Another challenge Drayton faced was USC’s location between two major freeways, which meant that suspects in vehicles could easily escape.