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The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

April 5, 2005
Edition: CITY-D, Page: B05

W. Chester idea: Watch students by video

Security cameras should be installed along one of West Chester's busy pedestrian corridors to monitor the behavior of college students, Mayor Dick Yoder proposed yesterday.

"This would help us deal with roving vandalism and noise," Yoder said. "They are particularly difficult to enforce because they are random. With camera technology, we will be able to monitor violations that happen as they take place."

Such cameras are commonly used to monitor municipal services and traffic lights but are generally not used by police to monitor people in public places, security consultant Michael Michalski said.

Yoder, who plans to discuss the idea with Borough Council shortly, said he had no specific plans or estimates of how much such a system would cost. Residents in West Chester's southeastern section have long clashed with West Chester University students living in their neighborhoods.

Borough Council Vice President Barbara McIlvaine Smith said she was intrigued by the idea, but said the municipality would have to examine the costs and legality of the proposal closely.

"At this point, I'm willing to try anything," she said. "The police cannot be everywhere at once."

Yoder has made Operation Vigilance, a crackdown on underage drinking among West Chester University students, the centerpiece of his first term in office. He is up for reelection this year and faces a primary challenge from fellow Republican David Hickman in May.

Smith, who represents the borough's Fifth Ward, will run in the Democratic primary but will likely face Republican challenger William L. Mason Jr. in the fall.

About one-third of West Chester University's 9,400 undergraduate students live off campus, with roughly 1,000 of them on South Walnut Street. At night, it is one of the borough's best-lighted streets and a major pedestrian corridor.

For years, residents have complained that rowdy college students keep them up late at night and do not respect the neighborhood.

The cameras are "something we've been suggesting for a couple years," said Joe Norley, president of the Historic South Walnut Neighborhood Association, who lives on the 300 block of South Walnut Street. "One policeman can monitor a lot of territory that way. But you still have to have someone who is confronting violators in the street and giving them citations."

Michael Michalski, a systems designer at Professional Systems Engineering, LLC a security-consulting firm in Lansdale, said it was more common for municipalities to monitor traffic or municipal services with cameras.

Generally, private organizations, such as companies or universities, use cameras to monitor streets or sidewalks bordering buildings.

"There are some gray areas with how far you can go with plastering up closed-circuit television cameras," said Michalski, who works at Professional Systems Engineering, LLC. "There may be some civil challenges to just indiscriminately putting up cameras to cover an area."

West Chester University junior Dan Cowell, who lives on the 500 block of South Walnut Street, said he would welcome cameras but was wary of being watched at all times.

"It's definitely a concern, but there are two ways about it," said Cowell, 21, a physical therapy major. "If it makes people feel more comfortable, that's a plus. But it's not if we have the police abusing their power, showing up at our door for random things."

Contact staff writer Benjamin Y. Lowe at 610-701-7615 or

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