At least, that should be on the top of the school’s “Get-it-Right List” for 2011.
Although much news has been made concerning the school’s never-ending budget crisis, the main topic of conversation among female students of Sac State (of which I am an alumnus and where my wife is a current graduate student) is the matter of campus security and the worry by women of possible rape while walking to their cars or class.
For a number of months since the beginning of the fall 2010 semester, the East Sacramento-based university has been plagued by incidents of sexual assault, most recently focused on female students as they crossed the school’s grounds. The last school year saw eight sexual assaults, the latest in December when a man attacked a woman as she walked to her vehicle. The woman turned the tables on her attacker by drenching his face with pepper spray. The man ran off, but no assailant has since been detained or arrested.
Feelings of unease and discomfort have caused women to begin taking proactive measures concerning their personal safety. Many women, including my wife, have begun walking the school grounds with pepper spray. In addition, women are collectively passing words of warning and caution to other female students, such as advising their classmates not to walk the campus while wearing a ponytail, as the bounded hair acts as a perfect griping point when someone attacks from behind.
No ponytail on campus – is this what it has come to? A sensible act to be sure – one implemented by women aware of their dodgy surroundings – but is this voluntary act by female students more a sign of the times or a sign of things to come on campus? Instead of a reduction of ponytails, we should be seeing an increase in university action against an uptick in violence against female students.
To be certain, Sacramento State has responded. The school has stated that it has increased its police presence and has also made law enforcement and security personnel available to female students in need of an escort. In addition, the college has used the attacks as an opportunity to educate their students about personal safety and sexual assaults.
Still, these actions are reactive, as they are only addressing issues as they arise. To address this matter further, the university must be prepared to adopt a new philosophy concerning campus safety and implement new measures to assure students that the college is working to provide a safe environment for instruction and personal enrichment. After all, the school maintains that “the safety and wellbeing of all students, faculty, staff and visitors on the Sacramento State campus is (the) primary concern” of their police department.
The following is a four-point plan the school should consider implementing to improve campus safety.
1. Work with the patrolling police officers
The university must audit its police force and its strategy for patrolling the campus. Earlier this month, the university police officers held a no-confidence vote regarding the leadership provided by Police Chief Daniel Davis; the chief lost that vote, 14-1. University officials must listen to its police officers on patrol – the same officers that are accusing the campus police department of being “the most management-heavy department in the California State University System.”
“The chief seems to have forgotten how to prioritize spending,” said Jeff Solomon, president of the California Statewide University Police Officers Association. “His 200 percent increase in administrative staffing means less money for campus patrols at a time when they are needed.”
2. Utilize additional private security
Addressing the issues of staffing and patrolling within the university police department is a start, but there are 29,000 students registered at Sacramento State and only 15 patrolling officers.
The campus needs to think about how its police force can be augmented with an additional part time security team. Although budget hawks might cry foul, asserting the money doesn’t exist, one needs to look no further than the misspent funds uncovered by campus police officers within their own department; it’s a classic example of money hiding in plain sight.
Sacramento State officials need to provide an audit of their own and make the hard choice: staffing or safety. If California Gov. Jerry Brown can save millions by cutting the state’s cell phone budget, perhaps the university can find the funds needed to provide additional security.
If the nearby Target store can provide a security officer patrolling the parking lot on a Segway scooter, then perhaps the campus can do the same.
3. Provide students with live safety updates
For years, media agents and reporters have been invited to the school to witness its high-tech alarm, the Emergency Notification System, developed to alert students of an urgent situation on campus. Oddly, not once has this system been implemented to alert students via text message and email that a classmate has been attacked.
The school should review what other unused communication and reporting tools are at its disposal.
4. Light the campus
There is a reason why there is a market for motion-detection spotlights – most criminals don’t like to be seen committing a crime. Sacramento State is a beautiful campus, covered with trees, but the canopy that delivers so much shade during sunny days also creates poorly lit areas at night. A new lighting scheme, perhaps one powered with solar-powered lights to save money, can go a long way in removing the shadowy element to an evening walk across campus. As to where to put those lights, the school need only ask the students that walk the campus – a webpage to receive those suggestions would be a simple (and free) platform to exchange the information.
This spring semester, which began Jan. 19, is an opportunity for Sacramento State University officials to regain the trust of their students. Time will tell if they make the grade.
Ryan Rose is an East Sacramento resident and is editor emeritus of Valley Community Newspapers, Inc, publishers of East Sacramento News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.