Students hopeful security cameras will make AUC safer

Atlanta University Center students were hopeful new security measures unveiled Tuesday will improve safety.

The changes include 35 security cameras and five license plate readers. The surveillance equipment, which cost about $700,000, was funded by the city of Atlanta and Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College.

The cameras are monitored by AUC police at their respective schools and the Atlanta Police Department’s video integration center.

“We’re in a new age. We have technology and have to take advantage of it,” Morehouse College sophomore Malcolm McKnight, 20, said on his way to class.

Crime at and near the campuses, located near downtown Atlanta, has been a concern in recent years. A 2016 Atlanta Journal-Constitution report found Morehouse reported about 28.4 violent crimes for every 10,000 students, Spelman reported 18.7, Clark Atlanta reported 20. Those rates were higher than Emory and Georgia Tech, although those campuses are located near more affluent neighborhoods.

The issue was “personal,” said Morehouse president John S. Wilson. He recalled getting a call on his first day as president in 2013 about an armed robbery on the campus. Later that week, he said a student was shot near the campus. Wilson appealed to Mayor Kasim Reed for help.

AUC leaders and city officials began work to increase security on campus and around its periphery that included better lighting. Atlanta Police Foundation president Dave Wilkinson said Tuesday there’s been a 35 percent reduction in crime in the last year in the city’s Westside.

Some students said lighting near the campuses needs to be better and more emergency call boxes would help.

Spelman student government president Imani Dixon said classmates have learned to do things themselves to reduce their risk of being crime victims, such as not walking alone on campus at late hours. Dixon encouraged campus administrators to continue exploring ways to use technology to enhance safety.

“This was a huge added benefit,” Dixon, 21, said of the cameras.

Reed and others said Tuesday the security measures are important, but more must be done to improve economic development and home ownership in the neighborhoods surrounding the campuses, which are among the highest-poverty communities in the city.

“When you have ownership, the crime rate goes down,” said Clark Atlanta president Ronald A. Johnson.