At every college campus, there’s a harrowing tale that could have been prevented.
Just in the past year, there have been national stories at several campuses where a string of women were brutally attacked. One in four women and one in 16 men are assaulted during their college life, according to the United States Department of Education.
“When I went to college life was different. Students received whistles to blow when they were in trouble, or there were blue light phones spaced out pretty far apart around school. But since a lot of violence happens at parties or events outside the main campus, phones aren’t always around where students need them,” said Tom Rissman, CEO of StreetSafe, a new subscription-based mobile security system.
The device can pick up a student’s location within three meters using GPS technology and connects them to help before a situation turns into an emergency. With the slide of a green button, a student can be connected with a live safety advisor who can talk with them as they walk alone to their destination. The advisor offers campus safety tips to keep the caller focused and aware of their surroundings.
A second level of technology for the StreetSafe device is a silent alarm where, with a touch of a red button, a 9-1-1 dispatcher would immediately send information to area police including a person’s name, picture, blood type, weight and any identifying mark. All the information is kept private in the system until the silent alarm goes off. “We want to keep students safe by keeping them focused and alert,” said Rissman. “This allows people to take control of their own personal safety.”
Marcia Peot, a seven-year police officer, has handled cases first hand that could have been avoided. She said when common sense meets technology, college life can be a safer experience.
“90 percent of women carry a phone to call a friend or family member in case of an emergency, but not a lot of friends or family can really help you out in a precarious situation when they don’t know where you are,” said Peot, who works in the Chicago Police Department. “Nobody plans on being a victim, but you never know when something can happen so a device like this is a huge way of being proactive.”
Many students view college life as their first true independence, which can make safety an afterthought. “The best thing a police officer can have is your location as quickly as possible,” said Peot. “The GPS device helps because if you are being moved from one place to another, we can track you instead of waiting for a police report 24 hours later after the incident.”
StreetSafe officials are already working on the next phase of campus safety. They have talked with various university safety departments to agree to link their information so they can act instantly when a student is harmed. An agreement with several universities is expected by summer.
Another innovation in campus safety involves using students to become the eyes and ears of public safety. Campus safety departments are often small, averaging one security officer for every 524 students. Through text messaging technology, companies like Massachusetts-based EyeWitness give students an opportunity to submit their crime tips anonymously and public safety is immediately notified. EyeWitness users receive confirmation that their text has been submitted and will remain confidential.
The Boston Police Department is one of the first nationwide to set up an anonymous texting tip line, which has not only helped them solve campus crimes, but murder, domestic violence and drug cases. The area police department is home to many nearby universities such as Boston College, Boston University, Berklee College of Music, Harvard Business School and Suffolk University Law School, among other universities.
While officials aren’t telling people to stop carrying pepper spray, they have lauded the way in which technology is bringing campus safety into the 21st century.
More campus safety departments are connecting with national organizations to teach them the new trends in security. These organizations are creating blueprints on the most efficient use of resources, regardless of safety/police force size or geographic location. The Campus Security Accreditation Program (headquartered in Virginia), helps safety departments develop a preparation plan for cases of critical incidents, and means to improve campus safety’s relationship with the campus community.
“There have been many areas where there have been problems on college campuses that can be improved,” said Craig Hartley, deputy director for the Campus Security Accreditation Program. “With new trends and challenges always popping up, campus safety can make sure the campus is secure for everyone.”
Hartley says the key is more organizations sharing incident and safety information. “We must at least share our best practices and what works and doesn’t work to keep everyone safe.”
Ernst Lamothe Jr. has been a journalist for the past 11 years working in Rochester and Champaign, IL. A Chicago native, he has covered business, government and higher education issues in his career.
Tips for safe college life
• Be aware of your surrounding, recognize suspicious people and look for exit locations for emergency situations.
• Avoid walking alone after dark.
• Don’t accept drinks from a stranger because you never know if they could be tainted with drugs.
• Trust your instinct and your intuition. If something doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t.
• Be careful of what you post online regarding your whereabouts, especially if you are alone.
• Always know campus emergency numbers and have them readily accessible.
Teen Board Sound Off
Q: What advice do you have for staying safe?
“Always carry your phone and let someone know where you are going at all times. Even when I am just stopping to run an errand, I make sure to call a parent or someone I trust. You can never be too safe.” —Morissa Schwartz, senior at The Middlesex Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences, Colonia, N.J.
“Trust your instincts; if you feel uncomfortable in a situation, get out of there! Walk in a group if it’s dark, or call security to walk you to your dorm.” —Jordan Rosenburg, senior at Troy High School, Fullerton, Calif.
“Always travel with a friend,never place yourself in a dangerous environment without an escape route and stay alert by getting enough sleep! It will help you stay safe.” —Arianne Wunder, senior at Howard High School, Howard, S.D.