Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, October 18, 2018

The thin blue line on campus

Our author spends her night with Public Safety

The routine of Public Safety officers has not changed, despite the armed robbery last week outside the Rockwood Building, as patrol changes were implemented after a series of sexual attacks last semester.

"Even in our crazy society, we're in an area where we expect to feel safe, and that's a privilege," said Sgt. Will Spencer, who explained that while the robbery was shocking, no changes are in the works since changes were implemented after last semester's sexual attacks.

The department increased its patrols and implemented new strategies under Mike McNair, who became the public safety director Thursday after having served as acting director when former Director Colleen Carson left the University shortly before Thanksgiving.

In October and November, the sexual attacks included a man making an advance to a woman showering in Anderson Hall and six incidents of a man groping female students and then fleeing, the majority of which happened in the Butler Garden near the amphitheater.

This was unusual of the AU community. In 2002, the last year reported by the university's annual security report, four forcible sexual assaults were recorded, while Georgetown University had one sexual assault in 2002 and George Washington University had 11.

The patrolling format has changed to increase accountability, Spencer said. Instead of patrolling up to three buildings before checking in with the dispatcher, who monitors where the officers are through a computer system, each officer now checks in at every building and patrols more buildings in the same amount of time.

Officers are also encouraged to be more visible on campus - which includes visiting student-sponsored events while also getting to know the students and administrators.

The robbery, however, is not indicative of the safety of the University, Spencer said, who explained that it would have been almost impossible for an officer to prevent the robbery.

"You never know when this stuff will happen," Spencer said. "Just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it won't; just because it has happened doesn't mean it will happen again."

Georgetown's statistics seem to show it is not any less safe than AU. According to the last available annual security reports, AU had 17 reported burglaries on its main campus in 2002, compared to George Washington, which had 87 robberies on its main campus.

"It has to do with location," Spencer said. "We're a suburban school in a city environment."

Spencer said he's noticed more students walking in pairs or speaking on a cell phone when walking alone late at night, which he believes is a result of the sexual attacks last semester. While there is no place on campus that is not safe, he believes students are more aware of their vulnerability.

The Eagle followed Spencer while patrolling Thursday night last week and found that while crime does happen, it by far does not take up the majority of his time. Other incidents, such as service calls and medical transports, one of which occurred during the two-hour ride-along, are more frequent.

"It's not a typical thing, but it happens a lot on the midnight shift," Spencer said of the medical transport, which usually, although not always, involves alcohol or drugs. "We don't miss a beat with it."

Within two minutes of Spencer being called about the possibility of needing a medical transport, he was at the front steps of Anderson Hall and being briefed by an officer. Another was inside the residence hall with the student and a fourth was already pulling out the blockades to let the ambulance into the Letts-Anderson Quad.

The majority of a public safety officer's time is not spent responding to emergencies, but rather patrolling the campus. Officers stop by student-sponsored events, check doors to make sure they are locked, and generally look for anything out of the ordinary.

Officers on patrol, especially when walking through areas such as the track, "make sure no one is in trouble, hiding out, making out or smoking weed," Spencer said.

Tips for being safe:

  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Instead of walking alone, use the buddy system
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you plan on being back
  • Avoid dark places
  • Attend a RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) class, which is sponsored by Public Safety and teaches basic self-defense
  • Know where the closest Blue Phone is
  • At a club or bar, never accept a drink from an unknown person
  • Call public safety for an escort to and from all University property

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