Campus police say redoubled efforts aimed at stemming last year’s uptick in the number of reported crimes are paying off.
Security will continue to improve this year, with plans to increase the number of sworn officers by about 10 percent, the expansion of student-based crime-watch programs and a doubling of the campuswide security camera system.
“We continue to analyze opportunities and suggestions for improving our response for the crime issues on campus,” said Barbara O’Connor, executive director of public safety for the campus. “The campus has been engaged in many innovative and proactive strategies to enhance safety.”
O’Connor said seven officers have been hired in the past six months and the UI police force is expected to grow from 55 to 62 sworn officers sometime this year.
After crime-prevention training at the National Crime Prevention Institute in Louisville, Ky., two police officers will work with various divisions and groups on campus to help the community take a more active role in crime prevention.
Additionally, partnerships with Urbana and Champaign police departments and the Champaign County Sheriff’s and Probation offices have allowed officers to have a greater presence in Campustown to combat increased assault-and-battery crimes reported late spring to early fall 2010.
O’Connor said the increased police presence has led to several arrests and that some recent cases had been closed after investigators found the initial report to be false.
Public perception is sometimes affected in that crime alerts are sent out when a crime is reported, but not when a case is closed. Likewise, some reported cases are cleared as “unfounded” following a crime alert.
But eliminating crime isn’t just about adding more badges, according to O’Connor, who also is the police chief.
She said any long-term success depends on a multi-faceted approach stressing greater awareness and involvement by the campus community – an effort that’s already well under way.
“When a community comes together to make itself safer, individual members mobilize to make it hard for a person to commit a crime,” she said.
Established programs such as SafeWalks, which provides a campus police officer to escort anyone who has to walk campus alone, has seen participation rates spike, jumping from 211 SafeWalks escorts in the fall 2009 semester to nearly 800 last fall.
And more Rape Aggression Defense programs are starting, with an additional instructor on the force. Over the winter break the offices of the chancellor and provost sponsored two training sessions for staff members, and this spring four more have been added for students.
“We have had an upswing in requests for classes,” said Jeff Christensen, UI deputy chief of police. “We are also working with local agencies’ Rape Aggression Defense programs to handle overflow or for those who can’t attend our classes due to scheduling.”
All are signs students and employees are paying more attention to their surroundings.
“When a person notices behaviors or situations that do not seem ‘right,’ ” he said, “they should call 9-1-1 right away. By doing this, they have increased the impact on campus where officers can take care of the safety, enforcement or peacekeeping functions.”
UI police say the 300-camera system employed at strategic locations across campus last year will add even more “eyes” – and one more level of protection.
That system, a joint effort between Public Safety and Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, is expected to double in size in 2011.
The number of cameras will continue to grow until the project is completed and as facilities are constructed, according to Tim Hetrick, the UI police detective leading the department’s effort.
“We’ve got at least 300 scheduled to be installed over the next four to six months,” Hetrick said.
Residence halls were among the first to have the cameras installed, but Hetrick said requests have come in from all over campus.
“We conduct a site assessment to determine need and location of proposed cameras,” Hetrick said. “Entry and exit coverage are among the most common requests.”
Once installed, the cameras are accessible by police after a crime has occurred or even in real-time during a live call. Hetrick said existing cameras are already being used to assist police in solving crimes.
“We don’t have anyone staring at a screen of camera views all day, but the video feeds are available and the cameras are proving helpful,” he said. “We’ve been able to track a few reported crimes backward.”
Hetrick said the police department is forming a partnership with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District to include cameras at campus bus kiosks.
O’Connor said it will take all of these efforts to ensure campus crime is kept in check – plus individuals willing to make crime-prevention a priority.
“In a safer community,” she said, “each individual takes responsibility for his or her space and takes care for those who need help.”