Following a string of highly publicized armed robberies in the campus area, Ohio State has made a commitment to spend more money on enhancing student safety in the university area.
OSU officials formed a task force and presented a three-part plan Tuesday night to President E. Gordon Gee to improve safety. Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for Student Life, and Jay Kasey, senior vice president for administration and planning, said Gee has accepted this plan, which takes effect immediately. Kasey estimated the amount spent on additional student safety projects to be between $75,000 to $80,000.
Part of that plan, a mutual-aid agreement between OSU Police and the Columbus Division of Police, is still in the works, said Nick Messenger, president of Undergraduate Student Government. He said he hopes the agreement is in place by the end of Winter Quarter 2012.
“My goal is really that we’ll see a mutual-aid agreement drafted and finalized by the end of Winter Quarter,” Messenger said. “I would love to see our officers working off-campus by the start of Spring Quarter.”
Messenger hopes there are three parts of a joint jurisdiction policy that the University police and Columbus police hope to cooperate on: first response, general patrol and assisting other agencies.
“Our police department is in daily contact with Columbus Police Department,” Kasey said. “There has been no formal discussion of all of this yet though.”
Another part of the plan is to increase the Student Safety Service program, an appointment-based van ride program offered to all students.
Messenger said additional student safety vehicles will be ready for use starting Winter Quarter 2012. Messenger said two vehicles used by Facilities Operations Development during the day will double as Student Safety Service vehicles.
“We will start with two (vehicles), and we will adjust for ride time. Our goal is going to keep ride times down,” Messenger said. “We’re going to pull vehicles that are used during the day and fit them with light and everything, use them at night and make them dual-purpose.”
Messenger said there have been 600 students that haven’t been able to get rides since the beginning of the quarter.
One student who attempted to receive a ride was Elissa Snouffer, a first-year in dance.
“It was maybe 2 o’clock in the morning and they were done running so that was kind of annoying,” Snouffer said. “I hope they increase the number of vans because they’re giving people a chance to get home safer.”
Messenger said the use of vehicles that the university already owns is an efficient use of resources.
“It’s really sustainable and really smart to take vehicles that we already have, that just sit in a parking lot at night, and instead use them for student safety,” he said.
Kasey stressed the main goal is to use more vans and more bodies to drive them to get students safely to their destination.
Another aspect of the plan is to change the previous Timely Warning System that alerted students when crimes occurred on or around OSU’s campus. Previously, University police Chief Paul Denton told The Lantern that the use of the Timely Warning System was at the discretion of the department.
Kasey said the revised system will be called Public Safety Notices and will be used in “particularly serious” crimes. The use of the system will fall under the realm of the Clery Act, which requires all university police departments to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees.
Messenger said he has high hopes for the new alert system.
“Hopefully there will be more clarity to the Public Safety Notices now,” he said. “And that student won’t make fun of them for being 36-hour-late timely alerts.”
Kasey said while crime awareness on campus is high, sometimes over-informing the public can be unnecessary.
“We also don’t want to cry wolf every time and worry students to an extreme,” Kasey said.
Some students said they feel differently. Steve Gacka, a second-year in accounting, said he would rather know what was going on than be left in the dark.
“I would rather know what’s happening and be notified too much rather than too little, which is why I really liked the Timely Warnings,” Gacka said.
The plan also introduces the Buckeye Block Watch program, which will create awareness of potential threats between neighbors in the off-campus area.
Messenger said a Block Watch was issued about six years ago, and during that period the crime rate declined. He said the when the program ended, crime rates rose again.
“(The Buckeye Block Watch program) doesn’t necessarily sound effective, but when we implemented it, crime went down a little but, and when we took it away, crime went up,” Messenger said.
Adams-Gaston said Student Life is planning on reaching out to off-campus real estate companies to increase security and lighting in the off-campus area.
“Student Life has an ongoing connection with campus real estate companies,” Adams-Gaston said. “We plan on running an audit with all campus lighting.”
Messenger said an inventory of all lighting in the campus area has been taken, and he hopes that city lighting will be improved off campus as soon as students return from winter break.
Messenger drafted a petition that he presented to the committee last Tuesday and said that the committee was very open to student ideas.
“A huge win for students,” Messenger said. “I couldn’t be happier. The university was really receptive to what students wanted to see.”