Alexander Lynch had just returned home from grocery shopping when the front door of his apartment complex was kicked in.
It was about 9:45 p.m. on a summer night in 2014 and Lynch had just finished unloading his groceries and carrying them to the third floor of his apartment complex, located on the 500 block of Euclid Avenue. Minutes after closing the door behind him, Lynch, who was the building’s only tenant at the time, heard someone breaking down the vacant first floor’s front door. By the time police responded, the person was gone.
“I just thought that as a student, we shouldn’t have to deal with this,” Lynch said. “Whether we are in a city or not, we’re here for an education…Virtually every bit of this [area] is just covered in students.”
Since then, Lynch has been researching and developing a strategy to reduce crime rates in the neighborhood. Now as Syracuse University’s Community Safety and Security Analyst, Lynch is beginning to implement his plan: blanketing the University Neighborhood in CCTV security cameras.
Lynch believes that installing 45 cameras across the neighborhood can reduce the number of non-violent property crimes in the area, one of the most popular neighborhoods for off-campus housing. The project, called the Off-Campus Camera Security Initiative, is already underway; its first phase is installing four cameras on Euclid Avenue and one each on Lancaster Avenue, Stratford Street, Maryland Avenue and Ackerman Avenue. The camera’s footage will be reviewed by the Syracuse Police Department according to protocols established citywide.
The project’s first part costs an estimated $110,000. Lynch is currently trying to obtain funding and hopes to have phase one completed by the end of spring 2017.
While many in the area are supportive of the project, some local community members are wary about the cameras’ installation.
For Lynch’s senior capstone assignment, he spent months researching crime rates as well as student attitudes and concerns about safety away from the SU campus.
Lynch said that he analyzed data taken directly from the Syracuse Police Department and the Onondaga Crime Analysis Center. He found that from 2013-15, 2,556 crimes were reported in the University Hill and University Neighborhood areas. From January 2016 to September 2016, 354 crimes were reported in the same areas according to the Syracuse Police Department's website.
Lynch also sent out a survey to SU students that received 185 responses. He said that those responses were startling: 84 percent of survey respondents said that they felt safe walking on-campus late at night, but that number dropped to just 16 percent when those same students left campus. Some 48 percent of those who responded said that they had been or knew someone who was a victim of a crime off-campus.
“There are over 10,000 students living off-campus,” Lynch said. “I felt that the University had some sort of responsibility to protect [those] students.”
Lynch then began developing a strategy that could help reduce the crime rates in those areas and make students feel safer when they leave the SU campus. He said that the corners where the first eight cameras will be installed were chosen because they typically have high student traffic.
He had found that in cities such as Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey, the installation of security cameras helped to do just that. He said that in Newark, crime fell 24 percent from the 13-month period before CCTV cameras were installed to the 13-month period after.
Lynch said his project could have a similar impact on the Syracuse community because the illegal activity occurring in those areas are non-violent property crimes, which he says are typically crimes of opportunity.
“Students will leave their laptops on their backseats and think nothing is going to happen to it, or they’ll leave their door open to their apartment and they’ll think no one is going to come in,” Lynch said. “Usually if [criminals] are just walking around trying to break into houses, they’ll make sure they’re not on camera.”
John Sardino, associate chief of SU’s Department of Public Safety, said he is concerned that the plan could give students living in the area a false sense of security. While cameras are good at reducing crime and catching criminals after the fact, taking steps such as leaving exterior house lights on and locking doors are still vital. He worries that students will see the cameras installed and start leaving their houses unlocked and not make good decisions.
“It wouldn’t change our messaging at all,” Sardino said. “We would still be messaging out, don’t walk alone, use the escort system, walk with friends, keep your head up, know your surroundings and all other things we say along those lines.”
Security cameras have been operating in Syracuse since 2010, when nine were installed across the West Side. Over the last six years, about 131 more have been added citywide, according to Lt. John Hamblin, head of the Syracuse Police Department’s Human Resources and Technology Division. All 140 of these cameras were funded through state grants, Hamblin said.
But, as of now, Lynch’s project will not receive any public funding and instead will be financed by local landlords as well as by the SU’s Student Association. Lynch said that each camera will cost approximately $12,000 and that he has currently secured about $60,000 as of Nov. 28.
Benjamin Tupper owns over 70 houses in the University Neighborhood and is the largest property owner in the area. Tupper first met Lynch when he was still a Syracuse University student. After discussing Lynch’s work, Tupper said that he was convinced something had to be done to reduce crime in the neighborhood.
“As cheesy as this may sound, I consider my tenants like my extended family,” Tupper said. “I want them to be safe. I want them to be happy. I don’t want them to call me at two in the morning because their car got stolen.”
Tupper has committed $24,000 to fund the first phase of the initiative, and said he will give an additional $24,000 for a future phase. Tupper is the biggest donor to the project so far.
“That’s a big chunk of change and it’s a big bite in my budget, but I’d be a hypocrite,” Tupper said. “I was in the Army for 20 years, I was an officer, I was a commander. You led by example. You don’t sit there and go ‘we need to do something about safety,’ and then don’t pony up.”
Tupper said he lobbied the Syracuse University Property Owners Association (SPOA), which is made up of all the landlords in the community, to contribute to the Off-Campus Camera Security Initiative. Tupper said that as of Dec. 1, SPOA had committed to contribute $12,000.
An additional $15,000 for the initiative will come from the Syracuse University Student Association budget, which is funded by SU students’ activity fees, according to president Eric Evangelista.
Lynch said he would attempt to secure additional funding from landlords in the University Neighborhood with Tupper’s help. He added that the plans for the number of cameras will be adjusted depending upon the total funding available by the spring.
Zach McDonald’s friend had his car stolen from his house on Livingston Avenue over Thanksgiving break.
McDonald, a senior, said that his friend had left the car in his driveway while he was away for the holiday. When he returned, his car was gone. Someone had broken into the house, taken the keys from his bedroom and drove off in his car.
McDonald said that cars have been broken into outside his house on Sumner Avenue on multiple occasions. In the fall semester, his roommate walked out of their house to find his car window shatter and his laptop stolen out of the backseat.
“We started being more cautious about [safety],” McDonald said, who supports the Off-Campus Camera Security Initiative. “It makes you realize that things like this happen, not only in the middle of the night, but during the day. They’ll come around whenever they feel like you’re not home.”
Taylor Wright is a senior who lives on Maryland Avenue, across from a corner where a security camera will be erected in the spring. Wright said that a few weeks ago, she had to ask a DPS officer to drive her home late on a Saturday night, because she feared walking home alone.
Wright said she supports the project, considering her and her friends’ experiences with safety off-campus. She is concerned about privacy issues, such as how her actions would be recorded on a daily basis. But to her, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
“I am definitely a big proponent of public safety and safety measures that are taken,” Wright said. “There are so many safety notices that I feel like go out… I think it [the initiative] is an excellent idea.”
But, some community members have expressed concerns about the cameras’ installation. Grant Johnson, a resident of Victoria Place who is involved in multiple neighborhood organizations, has lived in the Syracuse area for most of his life. He said that he feels as if the neighborhood has actually gotten safer over the last few years.
For example, people used to avoid Thornden Park during the day, Johnson said. Now, that isn’t the case.
Johnson also said he doesn’t believe cameras will help solve the underlying issues that cause crime in the area. He wishes there would have been more conversation in the neighborhood about the project.
“From my perspective, I’m not interested in living in a surveillance state any more than I already do,” Johnson said. “And I don’t say that as some kind of tin foil, hat wearing, super paranoid guy living in a bunker.”