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Headlines at Hopkins

Letter to Parents
Regarding Campus Security & Safety Issues
Sent by William R. Brody
President, The Johns Hopkins University

April 23, 2004

Dear Johns Hopkins Parents:

This has been the most difficult week many of us can remember. One of our students, junior Chris Elser, was killed. On Saturday, April 17, he was awakened by a burglar in an off-campus apartment building occupied by members of a fraternity. The back door of the house had been left unlocked, and possibly open. There apparently was a confrontation. Chris was stabbed. He died the next day.

This terrible loss has marked us permanently. In many ways, we will never be the same. Certainly, our university is the poorer for the sudden passing of a bright, generous, friendly and genuinely well-loved young man.

As awful as it has been, this experience has reinforced my already unshakeable belief in the strength of our community and in the quality of Johns Hopkins people.

As Wendy and I visited the hospital several times last weekend, many dozens of Chris' friends were there to be with his family and loved ones, to sustain his parents and younger sister and, in the end, to say goodbye to Chris. On Tuesday, thousands of students, faculty and staff, many of whom never had the chance to know Chris, turned out for his memorial service to show solidarity with his family and friends.

I am proud of our students' response to this tragedy. They have pulled together. They have held each other up. They have been steadfast in support of anyone who needed a shoulder, a talk, or even just some time alone.

I am proud also of the response of our staff and faculty. Ever since last Saturday, uncounted numbers of them have been involved in the university's response in one way or another, many of them pitching in without being asked. My thanks go to each of them.

We still have much to do. It is important to continue to support each other. As Chaplain Sharon Kugler and Dean of Student Life Susan Boswell have said in messages to our students, it is important for those in need of additional support to take advantage of the many resources offered by the university. These include the Residential Life staff, faculty advisors, the Counseling Center, our peer counselors and Campus Ministries.

And it is important now for us to begin talking openly with each other about the security and safety issues that this terrible crime has raised in all our minds. That is why I have called a town hall meeting for Homewood students on Monday, April 26. And that is why I am writing you today.

First, let me state the obvious: A violent, unprovoked, apparently random and certainly senseless attack such as the one that killed Chris is, fortunately, rare. But one such attack is one more than we can accept. Since last weekend, the city and the university have responded with dramatically stepped-up patrols in the areas adjacent to campus. Baltimore City police have provided K-9, horseback, motorcycle and helicopter patrols. We are making it very clear to anyone out there that we will not tolerate their preying on students or anyone else in our community.

I have spoken with both Mayor O'Malley and Police Commissioner Clark. They have assured me that both the increased patrols and the homicide investigation are high priorities.

Beyond that immediate, forceful response, we need to consider thoughtfully where we are in terms of security, where we have been and where we are going.

The tragic irony of the assault on Chris is that crimes of violence and property crimes in the immediate vicinity of the Homewood campus have been declining. According to statistics our Security Department receives from the police department's Northern District, the trend over the past five years has been downward.

There are, undoubtedly, many factors influencing this trend. Among them, I am sure, is the close collaborative relationship built up over a number of years between Ron Mullen, our security director, and the commanders of the Northern District. Another is the work of our allies in the community, including the Charles Village Benefits District and its security force.

Over the years, the university has invested heavily in the creation of a safe and secure environment, both on campus and in the adjacent community. For instance:

The recent Homewood campus renovations resulted in improved lighting and access to "blue light" emergency communications kiosks on campus.

We perform campus and neighborhood patrols 24/7/365, including both motorized and foot patrols in Charles Village during overnight hours.

We provide walking escorts and both fixed route and point-to-point shuttle rides to get students safely where they need to go. During the academic year, our vans clock 10,000 miles a month carrying about 10,000 passengers a month. After van service ends at 3 a.m. (later during exam periods), our campus security officers provide student transport.

We educate our students about steps they should take to protect themselves. We report serious crimes that occur on or near campus and disseminate advice about avoiding similar situations.

So, we already do a great deal, and have been preparing to do a great deal more. We are, for instance, breaking ground later this year on a new residence hall that will give 500 more students the option of living in university-owned housing. Long term, we are looking at plans for adding even more campus housing.

Director Mullen recently brought on board iXP Corp., a leading consulting firm, to help us think through technology options that will make our security services even more effective as the university adds new buildings and new populations. Among the many issues on the table for iXP to examine are our closed-circuit television surveillance and emergency communications systems. IXP specializes in campus security and has previously conducted studies for such institutions as Harvard, MIT, Penn and Syracuse.

But we cannot and will not stop with these recent new initiatives.

We need to consider what other measures we can take as a university to enhance security and, just as important, what more we can do to help our students, faculty, staff and community neighbors to better protect themselves.

We are open to exploring all options in terms of increased patrols or otherwise enhancing or refocusing our human, technological or other resources. We are committed to strengthening our existing partnerships with the city and with our neighbors.

Also, we are committed to using this tragic moment — when our students are more receptive than ever before to serious discussion of safety issues — to enlist them into our security efforts. We need to communicate with them, and educate them, even better than we already do. And we need to organize them in focused, targeted efforts to increase their personal safety and the safety of their classmates.

We welcome your observations, questions and suggestions along with those of our students, faculty and staff. We will remain in communication with you as we reach decisions and begin to implement new initiatives.

William R. Brody

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