In response to a number of armed robberies in the campus area Autumn Quarter, including one in a campus building, the university has invested in safety through the creation of several programs.
At Ohio State’s Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president of the Office of Student Life, and Jay Kasey, senior vice president for administration and planning, discussed improvements in safety because of “the unusual hike” in off-campus crimes last quarter.
Adams-Gaston said educating students on ways to prevent themselves from becoming victims of crime was important. As a result, the Office of Student Life created the Buckeye Block Watch program to encourage students to take an active part in safety and crime prevention.
“We are creating block watches with the students … and essentially these are opportunities for the students to speak with police, (and each other),” Adams-Gaston said.
She called the social aspects of the Buckeye Block Watch program powerful and said it will enable students to work closely together.
Sean McLaughlin, director of Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement, told The Lantern the Buckeye Block Watch program was fused with the pre-existing Community Ambassador program at OSU. The Community Ambassador program is in its 10th year.
“Community ambassadors are students who live in the off-campus neighborhood area,” McLaughlin said. “What they do is they work with our office and they do community-building activities.”
McLaughlin also said ambassadors will host a total of 14 block watch meetings at their houses. A Student Life administrator and a Columbus Division of Police officer attend the meetings to facilitate and share safety tips with students.
“It’s an opportunity for people on the street to come, to get a little bit of safety information, a little bit of training from the police officer,” McLaughlin said.
So far, five of the 14 meetings have taken place.
During the board meeting, Adams-Gaston said students living in the off-campus area will be provided with window placards and signs carrying statements such as, “If you see something, say something.”
University officials have also asked students to notify their landlords in writing about any porch light bulbs requiring repairs. Adams-Gaston said doing so would enhance security measures in darkened areas.
Aside from the Buckeye Block Watch program, Kasey mentioned improvements made to the Buckeye Alert system and the Student Safety Services.
Kasey said there has been a drop in off-campus crime rates in the month of January, with the number of burglaries dropping to 30 in January from 105 in October. Similarly, the number of assaults dropped to 31 in January from 51 in October, and robberies dropped to 32 last month from 35 in October. Numbers for the same area from previous years was not available.
Crime rates are drawn from the University District by the city of Columbus. The University District extends from the Short North to just north of campus and into parts of Italian Village.
Kasey said students weren’t the only victims in the crime reports; he said the numbers included all residents living within the University District.
Austin Brown, a fourth-year in psychology, said he’s noticed the changes made in student safety and he’s pleased that university officials continue to work toward insuring students safety.
“I feel much more safe … I’ve noticed a lot more cops being in the areas, traveling down streets together on separate streets,” Brown said. “I don’t know, it makes me feel better.”
Following last year’s string of armed robberies, university officials have implemented a public safety notices system which informs OSU students, parents, faculty and staff by email of any serious crimes reported to police.
The number of people receiving the safety notices has gone from 5,200 in the opt-in system to 96,000 now in the opt-out system.
“Today and as of this year, we bring everyone that we have an email or a text communication into our website and we push all the statistics out,” Kasey said. “Now when we notify people of crime, we notify 96,000 people, so it is a very hot topic.”
Improvements have also been made to Student Safety Services. The Lantern reported late last month that the Student Safety Services received $50,000 to purchase two new Subaru Foresters. The money was donated by the Parents Advancement Council.
Sean Bolender, coordinator of Student Safety Services, told The Lantern that Student Safety Services was able to provide transportation to a larger number of students with the addition of the two new vehicles.
“For the month of January we’ve actually had an increase in capacity by 116 percent, so from last January to this January we’ve provided roughly 490 students more rides that we did the previous January,” Bolender said. “So that puts us in the 3,000 range for rides.”
Bolender also said the safety escorts’ response time has improved and students no longer have to sometimes wait three hours to get a ride.
“The addition of the vehicles has been great because we’ve been able to clear more rounds faster and be able to provide services to you faster,” Bolender said.
In addition to the new vehicles, Student Safety Services has been able to hire more student employees because of an increase in funding from the university.