Covering All the Bases

May 1, 1997
Security is an issue that is, at best, secondary in the minds of many students on college and university campuses. Yet it is one that administrators must

Security is an issue that is, at best, secondary in the minds of many students on college and university campuses. Yet it is one that administrators must consider a top priority, continually revising and re-evaluating efforts to maintain the safest possible environment.

To do that, many colleges are balancing traditional security measures, such as foot and car patrols, with a blend of community involvement and new technologies. Some institutions are doing much more than improving lighting or adding members to the security force--they are taking a modern, holistic approach to security, incorporating strategies that are preventive as much as they are reactive, and bringing students into the fold.

"First and foremost, people have to be informed," says Calvin Handy, chief of police at University of California- Davis. Handy oversees security at the 27,000-student main campus and a satellite medical center in Sacramento with about 7,000 students. "That's why we invest heavily in crime prevention."

The police department and the student government at UC-Davis organize an annual campus safety week, which incorporates everything from safety seminars and self-defense demonstrations to volunteer recruitment for crime-control programs. The university also offers a website with tips and safety literature; an officer adopt-a-building program; resident-director training seminars; and a newly created security symposium, which includes a 21/2-day crime-prevention course.

Other efforts are more simple. "Bicycle theft has traditionally been a big problem on this campus, and we've managed to cut it in half," says Handy. "A large factor in our success was getting the administration to install more bike racks. "Our goal is to be community-oriented," he says. "We've found that rather than take a public-relations-style approach to our job, it's best to make people aware and informed of the potential for crime. When they have a better understanding, they can usually take better care of themselves."

Incorporating students into the mix At Gettysburg College, a Pennsylvania school with 2,000 undergraduate students, the development of a student-faculty security advisory group (SAG) has proved a boon to security efforts. Developed four years ago, SAG brings together representatives from the security staff, the dean of student life, and members of student government, fraternities and other campus organizations for informal bi-weekly meetings on safety and security issues, according to Timon Linn, director of security and operations at the college.

"We no longer wait until things reach a boiling point," says Linn, an advisor to the group, noting the goal was to develop a positive approach to security maintenance via a good student-staff relationship. "Instead, with SAG, we take a more proactive approach to student concerns. We talk about events and trends on campus, about what they feel they need from a security standpoint. The idea is to address hot topics before they have a chance to cause problems."

SAG members also conduct informal reviews of the status of campus safety, touring the grounds and making suggestions for improvements. This joint effort results in a more cooperative, open attitude on both sides, Linn says, noting that the interaction is probably the school's most effective security tool. "By getting the student body involved, by allowing them a say in something that directly effects them, they gain a sense of ownership and responsibility; they care."

If a crime occurs, the students involved in SAG can help ensure that the proper information is dispersed on campus, he adds. "They can help us to distinguish facts from rumors and help us to communicate."

Sue Riseling, chief of police at University of Wisconsin-Madison, agrees with Linn that student interaction is pivotal to the security process. "We start at orientation," she says. "We talk about important issues there, and then move into programming within the residential halls to make students aware and bring them into the fold."

The emphasis at this school, which has a 43,000-student population, is prevention education, Riseling says. "We stress the importance of students' taking care of themselves and their property, and make them aware that at a campus of our size, things happen," she says. "The crimes we deal with are mostly crimes of opportunity, like theft, as opposed to strangers jumping out from the bushes. Students are educated to not provide opportunities."

A neighborhood-watch program and information posted on bulletin boards create a sense of community and work as powerful tools in preventive strategies, Riseling adds. "Along with prevention through education, so much of what we do is planning," she says. "Rather than attempt to react to problems as they happen, the partnering of planning and prevention has helped us reduce our crime rate."

Reviewing plans A big part of the prevention strategy at the Madison campus is the evaluation of building plans by the security department--crime prevention through environmental design, as Riseling describes it.

"We look at plans for parking garages, research facilities, any type of new construction while it is still on paper," she says. "That way we spot the potential for problems right away; we can suggest a room be expanded, a wall be moved, or a better lighting system be installed. It's much cheaper to make improvements with the flick of a pencil on a floor plan than to go in later."

By getting a bird's-eye view of the exterior and interior of a planned structure, it is possible to maximize safety without sacrificing design, says Riseling. "Glass is a very popular design element, and from a security standpoint, we welcome the increased visibility. It gives us a greater opportunity for casual surveillance."

The security team often notices things architects and designers may not, such as blind spots where visibility is limited or an open layout that may make securing expensive equipment difficult. "The buildings have to be designed with elements that are very specific to their particular usage," she says.

Still, while these interactive strategies have proved largely successful, technology is still a much relied upon, and equally efficient, part of the plan. One tool growing in use at schools across the country is call boxes, where users can pick up a strategically located phone, press a button and immediately be linked to the police. "Call boxes make people feel safe and provide access to help in places that might not otherwise have it, like jogging paths and parking structures," says Handy.

Call boxes are presently in use at the UC-Davis Sacramento campus, and there are plans to bring a version of them to Davis. "We'll likely use phones that have an emergency button as an option, but also have a keypad so users can call for information if they are lost or need non-emergency help," says Handy. The security force at Davis also works with the school's facilities department to custom-design alarms for different needs around campus. "We use state-of-the-art technology to make sure our systems are as top-notch as they can be."

According to Dorothy Siegel, executive director of the Campus Violence Prevention Center and vice president of student services at Towson State University in Maryland, security and safety issues are part of larger, sociological problems facing colleges and universities.

"Crime on campuses is very frequently associated with alcohol consumption," she says. "Students are going to drink; prohibition doesn't work, and drinking-age laws are violated all the time. The law has separated students from other people; they have to drink in environments that are isolated from older people. It creates us-against-them scenarios; it creates tension."

Schools also must address the issue of students being thrown into new and foreign social situations when they enter college, she says. "Schools have to approach the problem of how new entrants can better make their way in new social environments. There's a lot of trauma and isolation that can come with the transition from high school to college. Alcohol eases that. People drink together to bond," she says, noting that this is where the trouble often starts.

The overall violent crime rate in 1994 on college campuses was 0.65 per 1,000 students, with 0.001 per 1,000 murder, 0.09 per 1,000 forcible sex offenses, 0.21 per 1,000 robbery and 0.35 per 1,000 aggravated assault. Property crime rates were 2.57 per 1,000, with 1.96 per 1,000 burglary and 0.61 per 1,000 motor-vehicle theft.

These figures were released as part of the first national estimates on campus crime and security, which are available through the United States Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in its report, Campus Crime and Security at Postsecondary Education Institutions.

The information was collected in early 1996 using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System and included public, private non-profit and private for-profit postsecondary education institutions at all levels, including graduate schools that participate in the federal Title IV student financial-aid programs.

The information constitutes the U.S. Secretary of Education's report to Congress on campus crime statistics mandated by the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act.

Copies are available from New Orders, Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. The stock number is 065-000-00973-1 and the price is $11. Also, check the website:

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