The Office of Public Safety is seeking to bolster its community policing mission by engaging students and other members of the community in an open conversation about campus safety.
Public Safety met with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and the Offices of Judicial Affairs and Residential Life on Sept. 26 to discuss ways to educate members of the campus community about knowing their rights. During the meeting, Public Safety talked about distributing informational handouts to students to help them better understand their rights and shared its plan to hold meetings in mid-October to discuss the matter further.
Terri Stewart, director of public safety and emergency management, said her office is in the process of putting together a focus group consisting of students, faculty and staff. Stewart said the focus group will explore how Public Safety can keep the college safe and how it can move its community policing mission, which is to provide and promote a safe, secure and healthful environment for all, forward, according to the office’s website.
“We’ll select people who are all stakeholders in the campus to come together with us to help us develop goals and objectives and some action plans that help us support our mission and vision, which is really anchored in the tenets of community policing,” Stewart said.
Stewart said Public Safety reached this decision after holding a conversation with students last semester. This forum, which attempted to facilitate discussions between the campus and Public Safety, revealed that students did not know where to go for information about campus safety.
Stewart said the forum was an outcome of a semester-long initiative to open dialogue with the Student Government Association, SSDP, Residential Life, Judicial Affairs and the Center for Health Promotion in conjunction with Public Safety. About 25 students attended the event and asked why some information is left out of Public Safety Alerts. Stewart said students also asked about knowing their rights and the goals of the marijuana task force during the conversation.
“It was a great dialogue,” she said. “It was honest, it was candid — tough questions that led me to believe we need to do a better job educating people.”
Last semester, the college community reacted strongly after The Ithacan reported on May 2 an incident where a student was judicially referred after anti-Semitic comments were painted on the East Tower dorm room door of two members of Ithaca’s Iota Eta Colony of Alpha Epsilon Pi, an independent fraternity. One month prior, there was a report of threatening graffiti in Friends Hall.
Stewart said this semester’s continuation of this dialogue was not prompted by the two incidents of offensive graffiti from last semester. She said that if students had a better understanding about the functions of Public Safety, they would have better understood this scenario.
When a crime occurs, Public Safety releases the time and date of when it was committed, when it was reported, the location of the crime and the crime or incident that occurred, Stewart said.
However, when investigations are ongoing, Public Safety cannot always reveal information because it would interfere with the investigations.
“It’s tough, and sometimes I feel like people get the impression that they’re being stonewalled when really we just can’t [reveal the information],” Stewart said.
In an effort to better understand Public Safety’s protocol, SSDP president, senior Victoria Gates met with Public Safety, Residential Life and Judicial Affairs last week to discuss their plans for the semester. She specifically asked about Public Safety’s distribution of informational handouts on student rights, she said.
“What I hope to see is a collaborative partnership between all the organizations and getting the rights card out to the students for free … and make the interactions between students and Public Safety better through these cards,” Gates said.
Until the cards are distributed, Stewart said, all of the information students need to know about their rights is outlined in the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report that the college releases every year.
Students received an email on Sept. 30 with a link to the online version of the report. Stewart said hard copies were available upon request beginning Oct. 1.This edition contains updated crime information from 2010 to 2012. In the 2012 Annual Report, Ithaca had 11 counts of burglary, three forcible sex offenses, one aggravated assault and four arson cases.
The publication also outlines Public Safety protocol and college-crime information. It outlines the different legal obligations Public Safety has as well as defining different crimes and providing detailed information about where students can receive help.
The report highlights two specific policies. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid to report all crime on or near their campus, while the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the privacy of a student’s education records, which prevents Public Safety from revealing detail of the crimes that are reported on campus.
The report is rich in details about policies that impact the campus, but the problem is that no one wants to read it, Stewart said.
“What information, where to get it, when we’re required to put it out there; it’s all outlined in this book that nobody wants to read, and I don’t blame them,” Stewart said. “It’s a lot of dry information, but at the end of the day, it’s really what the law originated as what is your right to know, and that information is contained in that publication.”
Tom Dunn, investigator for patrol and security services at Public Safety, said students shouldn’t hesitate to contact the office if they have questions about their rights or Public Safety’s protocol.
He also said if students encounter an officer, their initial reaction should not be to run but to cooperate in order to resolve the situation at hand.
Junior Sienna, who asked that her last name be withheld, said Public Safety was crucial in keeping her suicidal friend safe. She said the officers responded in under three minutes and calmly evaluated the situation.
“I’m really grateful to them for responding so quickly because anything could have happened if they hadn’t come sooner,” Kaiser said.
Another junior, who asked not to be identified, said he has mixed feelings about Public Safety. Reflecting on his interactions with the officers, he said he first contacted them for help with an intoxicated friend. While the officers initially provided him with a sense of relief, he said, he heard them mocking his drunk friend.
“They reassured us that they would take care of her, although, to be honest when they arrived, two of the public safety officers were cracking jokes that it was another drunk girl,” he said. “I thought it was kind of rude.”
Stewart said she hopes Public Safety’s outreach to students will help them feel more confident making calls when they see something amiss.
“I don’t want people hesitating to call Public Safety,” Stewart said. “We are a service entity — you call, we come. We’d rather be safe than sorry.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections. Correction, October 3, 2013:
The fraternity was incorrectly referred to as the Ithaca College chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi. AEPi is not affiliated with the college, but is an independent colony of the fraternity.