Friday, July 20, 2007

Campus Safety 2 - Unwanted People on Campus

This emailed question on campus safety came in today. Thought I'd share it with everyone as well as my response.

Thanks a million for getting in touch. I thoroughly enjoyed (and learned from) your talks – they should give you the whole day next time!

I have one question regarding safety. I arrived late to your breakout session because my clock was still on Central time!

Our campus is in an urban environment, and the buildings are generally open 24/7. As a result, we have itinerant / homeless people who seek shelter and sometimes food. Luckily, our police department is right across the street, and we instruct our students to phone them immediately if there is a suspicious or threatening person around.

My question is – are you aware of any other strategy we may pursue to keep people out of our buildings who have no reason to be there? I feel terrible creating an effort to push out the poor folk who have nowhere else to go, but we have to make sure this is a safe environment for our students.

Here is my response:

You may want to start with my earlier article on campus safety that the FBI is also using.
It may have some good ideas for you too.

Keeping people who shouldn't be there off campus including the homeless. That is a tough one because of the good nature and strong sense of justice or injustice of academics. It goes against our sense to evict the homeless or most anyone from a campus even if we know that we possibly should. This is especially increased if the school cannot or will not help itself by having students self-identify even in a passive way by wearing id cards. This situation is usually most common on a university with a large campus with many points of entry and view thus increasing the problem of uncontrolled entry.

So what to do? Well, on the homeless question, and not to seem hard hearted but… Here’s an idea. They need to be either moved off campus completely or the college can create an area that is actually designated for use by the homeless. The area should be one in which the security people can create an entry and exit that they can gain some control over. The homeless or others who wish to use the area must sign-in in some manner, be provided some identity badge or tag similar to what many museums use to identify those who have paid and must stay in this area. If they leave the area without notifying someone where they are going to and obtain an okay, they must be escorted off the campus and told they lose privileges to return and use the area for a period of time.

Just one thought and a couple more that may or may not be practical for your school.

The college may want to make an arrangement with some local shelters to bring the homeless from the college to the shelter. Work with the shelter people and others in the city. Set up a scheduled bus or van that will take the homeless to the shelter and let them know about it. They may start to use the transportation and thus leave the campus. This approach will keep many on the campus feeling as if you are helping them and so you are.

Otherwise the campus has to be made unfortunately inhospitable to non-college related people who might come on to it, at least at certain times during the day, like at night perhaps. This can be done by removing homeless or others when they are noticed. Having them move on rather than staying in one location as they do tend to cluster together. Be made to move all the time will make them seek a place where they can just stay put longer. Not friendly yes, but it can increase safety if they are an issue.

I also want to add another thought. College campuses attract non-students who may not have learning but illegal earning on their minds too. Thieves know that universities and colleges are easy pickings for them. Students and the college community are notoriously lax and even sloppy about being concerned for their goods and belongings. Students will often drop their backpacks, computers, books etc on a table in the cafeteria or outside the library, athletic facilities, etc. and trust that no one will touch them. Unfortunately, they do not always have a good basis for their trust.

Since it is so easy for thieves and others to gain entry to buildings, they can also “blend in” and assume even if they stand out, no one will bother them at most campuses. They have easy access to all the facilities such as those above. A quick tour of the cafeteria or other student areas will present numerous opportunities to steal stuff and walk off.

Even dorms are wide open to thieves or worse. At most any dorm, all a person needs to do is case out the doors students use to avoid the front entrance. Then they just some up behind a student going in and walk in behind them. They can even just yell out “hey hold the door!” and most students will do so. Since so many students leave their doors unlocked or even open, their belongings become easy pickings. Jewelry, laptops, money, ipods are easily picked up and stolen. And with one success, comes the recognition of many more.

The secret is to make these easily stolen items less accessible. If it is difficult to steal things, the dorm be comes a less desirable target for larcenies. If thieves come to the dorm less often, that will also cut down on other possible problems simply by their not being there.

Okay. How to do this?

I recommend that schools look at providing students with devices such as lockable safes such as some hotels provide in the rooms. These safes could also be placed in areas that students leave stuff lying around like cafeterias, libraries, bookstores…

There is a company I am aware of that provides a good product that can be leased or bought and even has plans that let schools make money on their safes to cover the costs. The company is SafePlace.USA. They have both individual and stacked safes that lock securely and even have electrical power inside to charge laptops and other electrical devices. Schools that have used them have cut down on thefts and crime. I have met with the principal

I hope I have provided some thoughts. This is a tough one since I do not know the campus and its culture etc. It is also a tough one until something happens and then I fear there will be an over reaction.

You may also want to take a look at the website of Security on Campus. This is the web of the good people who took a tragedy and turned it into a tragedy that helps thousands of others. They are the Jeanne Clery organization that pushed the federal crime on campus reporting act The Clery Act through. This is the act that requires schools to report crime on campus and it has been helpful. Though as we have seen recently many colleges ...well, they do not report fully. Uhhh.... they are frugal with the truth... They... well, they lie! And when they get caught. Well, just ask the ex-president of EMU!

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