Safety in Numbers and in Awareness

Campus safety officers say simple steps will keep you and your stuff secure

Oct 1, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Fall term has the largest influx of students to local university campuses and also the highest amount of crime out of any quarter or term. Typical crimes around campuses range from the stealing of unattended possessions to armed robbery.

Universities take measures to keep students safe, but campus safety specialists say a lot of responsibility lies with the individual students. Knowing the risks and taking the necessary precautions can go a long way toward avoiding problems.

The majority of crimes occurring at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier and Northern Kentucky University are crimes of opportunity — crimes in which someone leaves something unattended that invites thieves to come by and get what they can. “Some students have never had to be concerned about theft-related problems,” says Capt. Karen Patterson, program director of UC public safety.

This unfamiliarity with crime prevention leads to students making poor decisions about safeguarding their belongings, such as leaving dorm rooms unlocked, belongings in their car in plain sight or books and other items unattended in a public area. So to help keep students from falling victim to these easily preventable crimes, campus safety organizations try to school them on different prevention methods by meeting with them, passing around flyers and posting information on their university’s Web site. Robberies, while not as common, tend to occur due to students overlooking ways to stay safe, typically while intoxicated. Male students also are more often the victims.

“Women have the tendency to walk in groups, so that’s what we need the males to do,” Patterson says. “But a lot of times they’re like ‘Oh, I’m a man, I can walk alone,’ and those are the people that tend to get robbed.”

Xavier and UC offer free shuttle services running late into the night on weekdays and even later on weekends. It’s a proactive measure suggested for those students who are actually being studious and for those taking advantage of the unsupervised freedoms higher education allows.

If students find themselves in an unsafe predicament after the shuttles end their routes, a call to the campus police can be made to escort a student back to his or her dorm. If students do decide to heel toe it, though, it’s suggested they walk in groups in well-lit areas or through campus when possible.

Most campuses feature emergency call boxes — small towers with a blue light on top and a button that can be pressed to directly connect the caller to campus police. There’s also a rule against loitering on campuses for those individuals who don’t attend the school, which adds to the safety of traveling through campus at night.

The University of Cincinnati sends e-mails to its students notifying them when off-campus crimes occur. Typically, these notifications are about robberies, a trend that’s becoming more prevalent around its Uptown campus.

Multiple suspects armed with handguns have recently targeted people between 10:30 p.m. and 3 a.m. In response, police have stepped up their presence in the area. But students should still be cautious if they need to walk during those times, according to an e-mail sent by Eugene Ferrara, director of public safety and police chief of the University of Cincinnati.

Although there were off-campus robberies in Clifton Heights during the summer, UC is a safe campus that doesn’t have more criminal activity than other comparable urban campuses, says Capt. Patterson, who has a son now attending UC. In addition to crimes against students, many infractions are committed by students, mostly involving alcohol.

“The first couple weeks of school we see the most alcohol related arrests,” says Kenneth Grossman, crime prevention officer at Xavier. “Students are celebrating being back and that turns into some of our disorderly conduct or alcohol and damages offenses.”

Students engaging in alcohol consumption should take caution and know the laws. Alcohol can sometimes cause actions leading to arrests, like damaging property or hitting tennis balls into a field after being doused in gasoline and ignited, like a certain NKU student decided to do after tipping back a few beers.

“I thought it was pretty stupid,” says Chief Harold Todd, director of the NKU department of public safety. “But people do the darndest things.”

While there are many services offered by campus police to prevent and respond to crimes, the most important measure to remember when living on campus is using the good old noggin.

“No one’s out there to take care of yourself more than you,” Todd says.

ANTHONY SKEENS is a senior at the University of Cincinnati.