The current case of the murdered Yale grad student emphasizes the importance of campus safety and security. Regardless of the college or university, all students must have a basic understanding of what to do — and not do — to help mitigate their crime risk, as well as enhance their personal safety.
A federal government agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), offers some helpful tips and ideas for new and transferring college students and their families regarding what to look for when attempting to evaluate a potential college’s campus safety profile:
1. Since 1991, all places of higher education that take part in any Federal student aid programs have to report three years of campus crime statistics, post security rules, and make timely reports. The Federal Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act also requires every college, both public and private, to publish an annual report by Oct. 1 that contains crime statistics for the past three years. To check out a specific college’s crime report, go to their Web site and/or check the U.S. Department of Education Web site at www.ope.ed.gov.
2. Ask questions. Many incidents, especially rape and sexual assault, go unreported because victims are reluctant to step forward. When you visit a college campus, ask guides, professors, and students about their views on campus safety. Do they feel safe? Do they know of crimes that have been committed? How easy is it to report crimes?
You have a lot to see during your campus visit, but don’t forget to look for safety concerns. Make sure the student and their family walk around campus during the day and at night, but also be sure that neither of you walks alone. Ask yourself these questions:
Do dorms have electronic locks or some other security system in place? Are the doors always locked, or only after certain hours?
Are dorm doors propped open? If you visit a campus during the winter, ask if people prop the doors open during warmer weather.
Do dorm rooms on the ground floor have special safety measures like bars on the windows?
Do dorm windows lock?
Do dorm room doors have peepholes so that the student can see who is at the door before opening it?
Are safety phones or call boxes that immediately connect the caller to the campus police station installed throughout the campus?
Is the campus — parking lots, buildings, dorms, dining halls, walkways — well lit? Is it well lit during the weekend, as well as the weeknights?
What kind of transit system is in place? Will it be easy for the student to catch a bus if he or she is coming home late, or will they have to walk? Is the path well lit?
Does the college provide an escort service for students walking to their dorm rooms at night?
Is there assigned campus security at all times?
3. When you visit a campus, keep a notebook handy to jot down your thoughts, and be sure to write down safety issues or questions that come up.
Visiting a college campus is a good way for a potential student and their family to get a feel for a college and what its campus life is like. It helps a student and their family make a better, more-informed choice about which college is a good fit. Whether the college is private or public, big or small, in the middle of a city or the middle of nowhere, help your child find ways to stay safe. Protect your peace of mind — and your child.
A Quick Security Tip: You may want to check with the local law enforcement agency whose jurisdiction covers the area of the college campus to see what security and safety insights they may have to offer.
For more details on these SAMHSA college safety ideas, visit their Web site: www.SAMHSA.gov.
College safety and security is of paramount concern to millions of college students and their families. Of course, no safety and security plan is foolproof. Taking reasonable and prudent security steps can, however, help reduce a student’s risk of being a crime victim, as well as improve their overall campus safety.
Copyright 2009 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce Mandelblit (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com. This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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