Overall crime numbers down on campus, but dangerous nighttime incidents growing
Most types of crime at the U of S are down and the Campus Safety Director says it’s thanks to major increases in his constables’ foot patrols, bicycle patrols and video surveillance.
But Bob Ferguson says while the latest statistics are good news, the bad news is there’s a noticeable increase in certain types of threatening and violent incidents at night, as Saskatoon’s high crime rate spills onto campus.
Ferguson says many categories of crimes against people and property have dropped – including harassment, noise complaints, sexual assault, disturbances, mischief and theft.
Overall, from May-April 2004-05 in a selection of eight crimes against people, the number of criminal incidents responded to by Campus Safety were down by 45 per cent from 2003-04 – to 168 from 308. They were also down 32 per cent from 2002-03 levels.
Overall, crimes against property in nine categories was down in 2004-05 by seven per cent from 2003-04 – to 770 from 836. They were also down by 23 per cent from 2002-03.
Ferguson says that since release of the report of an external review of safety on campus in early 2004, his department has acted on virtually all the recommendations.
Now a major duty of 24 of his 28 special constables is regular foot patrolling in buildings and areas of high student traffic.
Also, there are now eight bike patrol constables, each with their own bicycle equipped for quick response into all areas of campus.
“And we now have about 200 surveillance cameras” across the University’s buildings, grounds and parking lots, Ferguson says. There are 18 video screens in the Campus Safety office and up to 100 cameras can be displayed at once.
Officers also use other high-tech methods now, such as placing GPS transmitter chips into decoy bicycles in bike-racks known to be targeted by thieves. Ferguson says this has allowed police to track right to the house containing a stolen bike and make an arrest.
So the crime situation on campus, at least during the daytime, is getting better – and this, Ferguson notes, at a time when resources for his department are very tight.
But the situation at night is much more difficult, and there are signs it’s getting worse.
“It’s a different city on campus at night, and it can be dangerous,” Ferguson says.
While some University people question the special constables’ need for batons and armoured vests, the director says they’re definitely needed at night.
“We’re seeing an increase in drugs and violence (at night). It’s mainly street stuff – for instance, when Louis’ (pub) holds an all-ages event and street gangs decide to come.” Ferguson cites one such event a couple of months ago where about 100 young people got violent and threatened campus officers with serious injury.
“Louis’ is working with us on that. But there are other problems.” Ferguson says the new smoking bylaw is causing trouble because it leads to situations where as many as 50-100 young men and women who have been drinking are standing outside Louis’ to smoke. Fights sometimes break out.
Ferguson says one side-effect of the recent increase in foot patrols is the discovery of street people coming onto campus at night. “We started finding people in buildings who shouldn’t be there.”
He adds, with Saskatoon having the highest or second-highest crime rate in Canada, it’s no surprise that street crime and related problems such as drugs can appear on campus at night.
In spite of that, “we’re holding our own”, Ferguson says, adding current relations with Saskatoon city police are excellent. Another of his points of pride in the work of Campus Safety is the officers’ high levels of professional development – with 3,000 hours of training logged in the past year.
Special constables are skilled at, and many can even teach, a variety of policing techniques, such as “verbal judo” a method of defusing confrontational situations that is essential in the University’s style of community policing.
And Ferguson says his department is working more closely than ever with other universities, like Alberta and Manitoba, on professional standards.
He notes Campus Safety recently launched a new, more informative and interactive website at: www.usask.ca/campussafety. It received 30,000 hits in July.