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Air Force Academy installs thousands of cameras for cadet safety

Air Force Academy Cadets participate in in a parents weekend parade at Stillman Field Aug. 31, 2018. (Joshua Armstrong/U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force Academy has installed several thousand closed-circuit TV cameras on campus over the past year to create a safer environment for cadets and to deter criminal behavior.

The cameras were mentioned by Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the academy’s superintendent, during testimony Feb. 13 before a subcommittee hearing of the House Appropriations Committee about the military service academies. The superintendents of each military service academy testified nearly two weeks after the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assault and harassment at the academies.

The report’s anonymous scientific survey found that 747 students said they experienced unwanted sexual contact within the last year, a nearly 50 percent increase from 507 students in 2016.

During the hearing Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, discussed how male and female cadets live in the dorms of the academies within their cadet companies and what can be done about their behavior when leaders are not there.

“How do we fix that in the military… so, you can’t lay the blame on the officer, he won’t see these things happening while he’s there; they will happen while he’s not there. … There’s so much (that) goes on (at) college campuses right now it’s unbelievable. But yet we’re holding you to a standard of honor,” he said. “And how do we reach that? I don’t know the answer.”

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Silveria said that the academy in Colorado is responsible for working harder to build a “culture of accountability,” and that their leadership education has senior cadets who are about to become Air Force officers take responsibility for what happens in their company.

He said that the safety and security of cadets were his responsibility.

“So we’ve installed thousands of closed-circuit TV cameras throughout our dorms for safety and security,” he said.

The cameras were added to the existing camera system, said Meade Warthen, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force Academy in an emailed response. They were approved in 2017 and their installation began in May 2018. They should all be installed this year.

In Silveria’s submitted remarks to a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, which he spoke to after the appropriations committee, he said “several thousand” additional cameras had been installed across campus. Warthen declined to give specific numbers.

The cameras have been installed in common areas at cadet dorms, including hallways, entrances and exits, study and TV rooms, stairwells and rooftops. They are not being placed private areas such as cadet rooms, locker rooms, offices or restrooms, the spokesman said.

“This effort is ongoing and is intended to enhance the safety and security of our cadets,” Silveria said in his HASC testimony. “Additionally, the units serve as a deterrent against criminal conduct, and provide footage for investigations in the event that an incident occurs.”

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The cost for the new cameras was $5 million, Warthen said. They are planning to install more cameras, but he said those costs aren’t available yet.

Asked if more people have been hired to monitor the camera feeds, he said for now “no additional manpower is needed to run this system.”

Citing security concerns, Warthen would not say whether cameras are monitored “in real time or viewed on recordings.”

In his HASC testimony, Silveria said that the cameras were part of “policy improvements and campus changes” meant to “address issues in the overall culture and climate at our Academy, as well as promoting good order and discipline.”

When asked what if any results have been gained from the cameras such as reduction in crime or criminal charges brought because of footage, the academy spokesman said they have “enhanced our ability to provide a safe and secure environment at the Air Force Academy.”

“We are not measuring specific results of any one law enforcement tool in combatting crime or ensuring protection of our people and property,” said Warthen. “Taken together, these tools, including (closed-circuit TV), have aided in achieving this mission.”

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