Arm yourself with awareness

Effort put forth by university students can go a long way to help prevent crime on campus, especially when it comes to protecting their belongings. The University of Washington Tacoma Safety and Security Department wants students to be aware of their resources and know that security officers and staff are here to help all hours of the day and night.

UWT is an urban campus surrounded by the city of Tacoma, which poses a unique challenge for maintaining campus security that a more traditional campus may not face. Forty seven incidents were reported during summer quarter of 2017 according to the UWT 60 Day Crime and Incident Fire Log. Approximately 29 percent of these incidents were related to theft, burglary and vehicle prowl. Vehicle prowl — theft from a motor vehicle — alone made up over 12 percent of the reported crimes.

Director Susan B. Wagshul-Golden of Campus Safety and Security makes personal accountability a priority.

“One safety concern for students should be preventing theft of their valuables,” Wagshul-Golden said. “Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Director Wagshul-Golden went on to list some ideal measures that students could take to ensure they are not victims:

  • Don’t leave valuables in your  vehicle.
  • Use anti-theft devices such as gearshift locks, ignition/steering wheel column or brake pedal locks for your vehicle.
  • Use a U-lock to secure your bike to a bike rack on campus.
  • Park in well-lit areas.
  • Never leave your valuables unattended in classrooms or hallways.
  • If you live or work on campus you should always lock your door to prevent unauthorized access to your space.
  • Never let someone in a secured building that you do not know.
  • If you see someone acting suspicious call 911 to report as much information as possible about the person and direction of travel.

Securing valuables is not the only trouble that students face on campus at UWT. The Incident Log also lists harassment, trespassing and a DUI. Campus Safety and Security provides more advice and direction to students during orientation and on the department website regarding what they can do to protect themselves from becoming a victim.

“Most importantly, always be aware of your surroundings and know your resources, such as using the buddy system or calling campus security for a safety escort to walk with you to a building or parking lot on campus,” Director Wagshul-Golden said.

Many students feel safe on campus, but are troubled by the dark hours and the sometimes extended walk to their vehicles.

Michael Slettevold, a junior information technology major, said, “I feel campus is generally pretty safe during dark hours. I feel as if the surrounding area is not. I have to walk to a parking lot rather far that way — 15 minutes. The parking is off campus. I feel as if that walk is not safe.”

A female student attending night classes can feel particularly vulnerable when walking alone. Michelle Montano, a sophomore writing studies major, finds herself looking over her shoulder and suppressing a sense of unease.

“There would be maybe one or two students and it was really quiet. And I would constantly look over my shoulder to make sure no one was around me because I didn’t feel that safe,” Montano said. “It was very empty and me being a female walking in the dark at night by myself it’s — I don’t know. I don’t feel safe.”

UWT has 12 emergency phones publicly accessible and the locations are identified on the emergency evacuation map available for print or reference on the Safety and Security website. The Safety and Security Department wants to add more emergency phones, especially to parking lots, when funds are made available. Students remain concerned with their effectiveness and the distance between the towers.

“It’s there but does it work? I don’t know,” said Isabella Damian, a sophomore business major. “Because if there’s an emergency and you’re being chased down, how long is it going to take for someone to answer it or how long is it going to take for you to get there and do your call and then have that all while you’re being chased?”

Campus Safety and Security wants to assure students that they are available at the push of a button. “Response time is very immediate when a person activates the emergency phones on campus,” Wagshul-Golden said. “We do monthly checks; daily visual checks to make sure everything is lit.”

The blue emergency towers have been placed so that one can be seen when standing at another, forming a path that a victim can run and an officer can follow.

Safety officers are trained to look for flashing lights on patrol as a signal that someone might be in distress. The phones are a gateway to speak directly to campus safety staff who will assist the caller in determining what kind of help is needed. Callers have access to emergency responders such as the police, medical emergency providers and the fire department, as well as the ability to request motorist assistance and a safety escort to walk with you to your vehicle — a free service available 24 hours a day.

The presence of Campus Security is a comforting thought to students buffering against the feeling of anxiety that comes from the campus being embedded within the city.

“It’s like a breath of relief: Oh, there’s someone there I know is watching, so I’m gonna be OK,” said Montano regarding the physical presence of the security staff.

PHOTO BY LONG TRAN

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