A Crucial Campus Safety Resource
Who is responsible for ensuring your campus is a safe environment for learning and personal growth?
Most higher education institutions have departments dedicated to public safety and committees focused on emergency preparedness and planning. However, involvement in campus safety initiatives should extend beyond these groups. Colleges and universities seeking to improve safety and security on campus can maximize their efforts by simply tapping into an often-overlooked resource: the student population.
Students can provide valuable insight into improving campus safety. Because they’re plugged into the campus social scene, students are far more likely to witness dangerous behavior and campus crime than campus safety officials.
While faculty and staff are more naturally inclined to support initiatives promoted by the institution, students generally are not. Yet when the entire campus community—faculty, staff, and students alike—is invested in maintaining a safe, secure environment, the climate on campus becomes more productive and collaborative.
Encourage an Active Role
Motivating students to take an active role in campus safety initiatives is challenging and requires more time and effort than simply giving incoming freshman a safety presentation during orientation. Yet, when it’s done successfully—and students become active participants in campus safety—the advantages easily outweigh the effort.
Engaging the student body yields many benefits.
- Campuses become safer
- Students feel more connected to the college community
- Communication barriers between campus safety officials and students break down
Empowering students to become stakeholders in campus safety begins with a simple premise: students need to feel connected to the campus community. If they don’t feel like they belong and are part of campus life, even in a minor facet, chances are they won’t feel compelled to take a role in improving safety and security.
Luckily, most campuses offer a multitude of groups focused on helping students find their niche and get connected. Residence Life, student outreach groups, and other similar resources help promote social connectivity through campus events and by identifying students who may need assistance.
The first step in promoting safety as a community endeavor is ensuring your safety department is fully integrated into your campus community. Too often, safety and security officials become caught in a reactive cycle where the only contact they have with students is disciplinary in nature.
Don’t wait until something goes wrong on campus to make your presence felt. Students should be familiar with campus safety officials as individuals. Building meaningful connections facilitates trust and understanding, which in turn make students more likely to contact campus safety officers and support campus safety initiatives.
Promoting the campus safety department’s impact also sends a valuable message to students about its priorities. Sharing statistics and the results of your efforts to protect students and deter crime on campus demonstrates that your department is invested in their wellbeing—and that your officers do far more than just confiscate alcohol and break up parties.
Establishing partnerships with organizations, both on and off campus, is crucial to building a sense of community. Offering campus safety department services for student events can also go a long way in establishing trust and open communication and developing connections with students and staff.
Collaboration on projects or initiatives—community service or otherwise—has proven to be a successful tactic for fostering relationships with groups that are typically anti-establishment or wary of authority. Oftentimes, simply reaching out to these groups to ask for input on campus safety issues makes a substantial impact.
When students and staff believe their input is valued and their voices are heard, they feel more connected to safety and security policies and become personally invested in campus safety.
Most campus safety departments provide basic safety training to Residence Life departments, student housing staff, and other facilities personnel. This training typically covers general emergency protocols and procedures, when and how to contact campus safety, and what to do if you notice suspicious individuals or witness dangerous behaviors. While the basics provide a good foundation, expanding training related to recognizing and reporting questionable activity supports a proactive approach of prevention and detection versus a reactive one.
Ideally, every student and staff member should receive training that covers handling and, more importantly, identifying suspicious behavior.
College campuses present unique challenges because students may observe suspicious or alarming behavior, but anxiety and uncertainty over reporting what they saw may prevent them from taking action. Additionally, because many college students are living on their own for the first time, they aren’t always fully capable of evaluating a situation and determining the best way to respond—especially in ambiguous situations.
For example, in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, multiple students recounted seeing a suspicious hooded man lurking outside of Norris Hall (where the shooting spree occurred) two days before the massacre. Students also recalled that some doors to Norris Hall were chained shut during the same time. Although students noticed these things and identified them as out of the ordinary, they tragically weren’t compelled to notify anyone until after the unthinkable had happened.
Fear of Consequences
Reporting suspicions to campus safety officials can be intimidating for students. They may worry about getting in trouble, getting friends in trouble, retaliation, or being ostracized. In dangerous situations, students may think that calling campus safety or 911 will increase danger by aggravating a potential attacker.
In addition to teaching students how to recognize and respond to suspicious activity, campus safety departments should also provide witness and bystander intervention training. Educating students about what constitutes specific types of crime helps fight misconceptions about what should or should not be reported. Too often, crimes go unreported simply because students are not aware that a crime or violation of the university’s code has even been committed.
Tools for a Safe Campus
Blue light phones placed strategically around campuses have improved student safety for years by providing a direct line to campus safety officials. Most campuses offer escort services that students can utilize when walking from point to point on campus after dark. In recent years, many institutions have turned to newer technology—such as security cameras, access control, and electronic reporting systems—to further enhance campus safety.
Today, new tools are available to help overcome obstacles preventing students from engaging with their campus safety departments to report suspicions. One of the more popular solutions is a mobile app that allows students and staff to quickly, safely, and anonymously converse with campus safety personnel. In ambiguous situations, or when students aren’t certain of the appropriate action to take, this type of app provides an easy way to quickly check with someone who knows what to do and can help. Having a direct line to campus safety officers via an app expands the network of safety beyond the areas where blue light phones, escort services, and other campus security tools are located.
An Empowered Campus
By placing the tools for safety and communication directly into the hands of students, your campus safety department will empower students to become stakeholders and active participants in the safety of their campus community.
Engaging students in safety initiatives, providing training to increase awareness, and developing connections to build trust between students and campus safety officials are vital steps to building a strong, healthy campus where all individuals are empowered to take an active role in campus safety.
For more than 20 years, Omnigo software solutions have been the preferred choice for law enforcement, education, healthcare, gaming, hospitality, and corporate enterprises. Currently, Omnigo’s solutions are used by over 2,000 customers in 20 different countries. At Omnigo, we’re committed to helping customers secure their organizations’ property, control operational costs, and ensure the safety of the general public.
We believe our customers deserve the best support available to protect their people, assets, and brand. We also understand how challenging it can be to protect the community without the proper resources. We’re here to arm users with the best tools in the industry. With a team that includes former law enforcement, first responders, and other public safety professionals, we’re uniquely qualified to understand exactly what our customers need to protect their community.
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