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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 7, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 2
Steps Taken to Enhance Student Safety

All concerns at town hall meeting are being addressed

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The tragic murder of Johns Hopkins undergraduate Chris Elser on April 17 in an off-campus fraternity house left the university searching for answers. First and foremost, why did such a senseless act of violence take place, and then, could anything be done to decrease the odds of something like it from happening again?

In response, the president and the deans of the Homewood schools on April 26 conducted a campus town meeting to solicit the security concerns and related recommendations of the undergraduate and graduate student body. The university also began an examination of its policies, procedures and programs regarding student safety both on and off campus.

As a result, a number of additions and improvements to security have been made to date, and several more recommendations are being examined.

The three primary issues of concern presented at the town meeting were the availability of safe private housing for students living off campus, safe and efficient travel off campus and the enhanced dissemination of security information.

Jim McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration, said that President William R. Brody also asked the Homewood Security Department, Office of Student Life and selected administration members to assess Johns Hopkins services, including how we fare relative to a group of other urban universities.

"We found that we fare well both in terms of crime, which is below average, and the dedication of resources to security services, which is about at the average," McGill said. "We know we can always improve. Thus, we reviewed all the elements of our current services. We identified some measures that were immediately taken. We also have recommendations that will expand current services but will require additional resources. We are sharing those recommendations with the deans and will be working with them to implement them."

Specifically, since the attack the Security Department has maintained an increased presence off campus and has hired more contract guards to supplement its own staff officers on these patrols. A new patrol post has been added along the University Parkway corridor throughout the day and night. Farther to the south, staff has been added to existing patrol areas around Charles Village, especially in the evening and overnight. All this is in addition to the regular patrols of the Baltimore City Police Department, with whom Hopkins Security works closely.

The university further encourages students to travel safely at night, whether in groups or through its escort programs. To promote the programs, the Office of Student Life will be distributing wallet cards, bookmarks and fliers to ensure that students know how to get a ride when they need one. The information will also be printed on newly issued J Cards and on the expanded Security Department Web site

On and near campus, the number of "blue light" emergency telephones has been increased from 28 to 31. The university is adding signs by some of the phones to improve their visibility and is looking at other ways to make students better aware of where these emergency phones are located. Additional blue light phones are planned along the east side of Charles Street, both in the near future and after completion of the Charles Commons student-housing complex in 2006.

For this year's freshman orientation, safety briefings were expanded and made mandatory. The Security Department will continue to offer crime prevention evaluations of fraternity houses and other off-campus dwellings and now can also recommend the services of a certified specialist in crime prevention in buildings.

Working with the Charles Village community, the university has begun a survey of lighting in the neighborhoods surrounding campus to identify areas that could benefit from better illumination and will work with property owners and citizens to make appropriate improvements.

Johns Hopkins is also nearing the end of a consultant's study, begun before Elser's death, that should provide concrete recommendations for using new technology, including security cameras, to further improve student safety both on campus and off. Further enhancements to Security's escort services, such as the contracting of professional drivers for all routes and an on-demand service, are also under consideration.

In a letter to students that went out last week, President Brody said that crimes against both persons and property in the immediate vicinity of Homewood actually have been declining over the past five years. Compared to peer institutions of JHU's size and setting, he said, the incidence of crime is low, but "we should take little comfort in that."

"We want the downward trend to continue," he wrote. "But the truth is that — the university's safety initiatives notwithstanding — the person most important to making that happen is you."

He urged students to use the university's walking and escort services, to keep their residence hall rooms and apartments locked and to never leave valuables unattended, among other measures.

McGill said that in response to the town hall meeting, every issue and suggestion made there has received serious follow-up.

"Some required immediate action, which was taken. Some reflected the fact that people did not know about current available services, and so the communication about those services has been enhanced," he said.

In overall terms of Homewood security, McGill said that the evaluation process has borne out the premise that Johns Hopkins has a first-rate security service, under the able leadership of Director Ronald Mullen.

"Ron is committed to continually improving it and welcomes suggestions from all members of the campus community," McGill said.


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