U of S takes action on safety review proposals
By Colleen MacPherson
The University has responded quickly to implement some recommendations of a review of personal safety on campus, and will move forward over the next few months on others, but is mindful of the fact “we’re a private place with public access”.
Tony Whitworth, vice-president finances and resources, told the news media April 16 that the U of S is committed to implementing most of the 45 recommendations found in the review to ensure the learning and working environment here is “as safe and secure as it can be”. At the same time, “we wouldn’t want to create a fortress university mentality. It’s a disappointing reflection on the broader society that we live in (that) a minority can exploit and take advantage of the openness of campus.”
The review was called after two high-profile incidents last year on campus. Earlier this year, Calgary consultants Keith Winter and Jennifer Yip Choy met with a number of interested groups on campus, attended public meetings about safety issues and reviewed operations in a number of areas. The cost of the review was $19,000, said Whitworth, but implementing the recommendations “will initially not be costly (because) we’ll be using the same resources in different ways”. The goal, he said, will be to get “the right response from the current resources”.
Implementing the recommendations is expected to continue into the fall but one shortcoming that has already been addressed, said Whitworth, is a system for alerting the campus community to potential safety threats. Now, e-mail notifications are to be sent out within 24 hours of an incident being reported, and written security alerts are to be posted within four hours of an incident on new notice boards in strategic locations across campus.
The bulk of the reviewers’ recommendations relate to the Department of Security Services which Whitworth said has already begun to move to an expanded community-based model of policing campus and away from writing parking tickets. He said the University has, until now, used a “blended model” of policing that combined community policing with parking enforcement. “What we’re switching to is more emphasis, more bias on the community policing side of things”.
The community-based approach will see security officers on foot patrol making more personal contact with the campus community while parking enforcement is “more clearly shifted to another unit”. Whitworth said this might involve using a contract organization or students hired to do the job.
The reviewers also recommended Security Services shifts its operations from the Maintenance Building to a high-profile spot in Place Riel, a move fully supported by the University of Saskatchewan Student’s Union (USSU). That group’s president, Robin Mowat, told the press conference that plans already in place for the renovation of Place Riel are flexible enough to accommodate Security Services as a tenant. The USSU is committed to working with the University to implement the recommendations because “a safe campus can only be achieved by all of us working together”.
The report also recommends a comprehensive personal safety audit of campus with an eye to beefing up safety with parabolic mirrors, more lighting, more help telephones and trimming trees and shrubs. It also suggests limiting access to certain building at certain times of day. Whitworth said the University will study usage in all buildings to determine if it is feasible to lock some earlier than is done now. That study will take place over an academic year in order to assess high and low usage times.
Expanded use of closed-circuit television cameras is also suggested. Some 165 are already in use on campus but according to the review, most people at the U of S believe they are installed to protect property, not enhance safety. Whitworth said all cameras should be co-ordinated and monitored from one location.
One recommendation that the University will not follow through on is moving the position of community safety manager from Health, Safety and Environment to Security Services. Whitworth said provincial legislation prevents such a change.
Education for the campus community was also addressed in the review with a recommendation that gender training be provided, particularly for first-year students. When asked by the media if senior management would be prepared to “lead that charge”, Whitworth said yes, “there’s always something to be learned”.
He was also asked how the University will know, after making changes, that the campus is a safer place. Whitworth suggested the external reviewers be invited back in six months “to see if that question can be answered”.