Volume 12, Number 6 November 5, 2004

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Actions taken to put focus on campus safety

By Lawrence McMahen

Special Constable Leanne Boettcher checks security-camera monitors at Campus Safety headquarters.

Photo by Lawrence McMahen

The U of S has acted on the majority of the 45 recommendations from last spring’s external review of personal safety on campus – and it has already fully implemented many of them.

The actions include a big increase in special constables’ foot patrols, the addition of a number of security cameras both inside and outside, and quick campus-wide notification of safety threats.

And top officials say the result is a major shift in the focus of security on campus – with a resulting boost in both the perceived and actual safety of people at the University.

Tony Whitworth, Vice-President of Finance & Resources, and Bob Ferguson, Director of the just-renamed Department of Campus Safety (formerly Security Services), say changes began almost immediately after receipt of the report from the external reviewers last March.

Following two reported U of S sexual assaults in 2003 and an outcry from some over safety and the University’s response, Calgary consultants Keith Winter and Jennifer Yip Choy visited campus and reviewed the situation. Their report recommended a number of changes to Security Services’ operations and to communications after reported assaults.

“We’ve achieved almost all of it,” Whitworth says.

Ferguson adds, “I think we’ve accomplished more than many people thought we could in a year, and I’m really proud of the way the Campus Safety special constables have responded and are providing a professional level of service.”

In response to the review’s recommendations, the changes include:

  • Parking enforcement has been split from Campus Safety, and is now done by two staff working for the Parking Office.

  • Enforcement of liquor and moving traffic violations was suspended for awhile, and has now been resumed, targeting problem areas, freeing up special constables for other duties.

  • Campus has been divided into five zones, with an officer at all times expected to check on each building in his or her zone at least a couple of times during their 12-hour shift.

  • Officers' foot-patrols of major buildings on campus has been greatly increased, with special emphasis between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. and in buildings where people work or study overnight. Ferguson says, "The (University) community has made many favourable comments about the visibility." He says after the increased patrols began last May, constables made four arrests of undesirables in campus buildings. Campus Safety statistics show that foot patrols rose from 1,043 in 2002-03 to 1,488 in 2003-04 - and already in the first half of 2004-05 there have been 1,518 patrols.

  • For a trial period from September to December, Campus Safety is renting kiosk space in Lower Place Riel to provide officers' presence in that busy area for a couple of hours per day. The reviewers recommended Campus Safety move from its Maintenance Building offices to a central location, and space either in Place Riel, Arts, or near the Bowl may be considered, although it would require renovation and any move is likely at least two years away. Ferguson says he would like to eventually have a spot "visible to the public, accessible 24 hours a day, and possibly adjacent to a safe study area".

  • High-tech surveillance cameras have been added in a number of areas, including some academic buildings, McEown Park residences, the underground Agriculture parkade and the new Stadium Parkade. Two more academic buildings may be added soon. The cameras are tied into a new web-based switching and recording system operated by a Campus Safety Officer in the department's offices. Ferguson says there are 70 cameras in the system and up to another 60 could be added over the winter.

  • Automatic intrusion alarm systems are being added to areas in buildings across campus.

  • In a move that goes beyond measures called for by the reviewers, Ferguson says Campus Safety is testing alarm pendants that will be worn by interns in Veterinary Medicine. When both sides of the pendant are pressed, it sends an alarm to Campus Safety's dispatch centre. He says his staff is also looking at the idea of adding desk-mounted alarm buttons in certain offices around campus.

  • A Standard Operating Procedures manual is being developed, to ensure consistent response to situations.

  • A new, high-profile Communications Protocol was created shortly after the external reviewers' report was issued. They urged a system of notifying staff and students of any serious incidents within 24 hours. Senior U of S Communications Officer Tina Merrifield says the Protocol provides much quicker notification, calling for e-mails to all students and staff and the posting of safety alert posters, if necessary, within four hours. And in fact, Merrifield says, when the Protocol was used this summer to alert people to the release of a previous campus sexual assault criminal, it was carried out within two hours. She says that, in the event of an incident or threat, the Protocol aims to ensure people's safety, to respond to the personal needs of any victims, and to disseminate information so people on campus know what to do. Merrifield says Campus Safety along with the Community Safety Officer, the Communications Office, Administration, Student Counselling, the Employee Assistance Program, and other groups have worked together on the Protocol. "It's in place and it's working." A quick alert system was one of the main demands of critics of the University during debate over the safety issue last winter.

  • Campus Safety also continues to increase its professional training in areas like Verbal Judo and Rape Aggression Defence programs.

Ferguson says the effect of the reviewers’ recommendations and the subsequent actions has been to focus resources into the areas that they should have been in. In many cases the changes are in line with “community policing” directions that his office wanted to move in.

He adds that his officers are vigilant both day and night – with half of campus crime happening during the daytime. But at night, he notes, special constables sometimes face incursions by “the hardcore downtown criminal element” along with “meth and cocaine addicts with hypodermic needles and AIDS”. That’s why his officers need armoured vests.

While she still thinks there is more the University should do, Victim Advocate Jacquie Thomarat, employed by the U of S Students’ Union’s Women’s Centre, was quoted last week as saying the many changes made by Campus Safety “are noticeable and positive”.

Vice-President Whitworth says the Campus Safety name change and the tangible actions taken to date “are to make it clear that our prime concern is safety”.

“The old perception was somewhat that the officers were protecting buildings, enforcing parking and riding in their cars. Now there’s a focus on visibility and interaction with students and the promotion of the living and learning environment,” Whitworth says.

“(Now), we want the student community and employees to look at the officers as being there to protect their safety.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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