Posted January 23, 2017 by Cooper Point Journal in Community

Police Program to Shed Light on Campus Safety

Safer Steps Program Designed to Bring Awareness to Police Public Service

By Chloe Marina Manchester

Safer Steps is a new program designed to raise awareness of the public services offered by campus police, such as unlocking doors, jumping cars, and escorting students who are afraid to walk alone around campus. Prior to the program, police already offered many of these services, performing more than 500 of these public services in the last year. They have started this program to try to encourage students to feel more comfortable reaching out to campus police for help.

However this program is not perfect, there are marginalized students who are fearful of police, specifically students of color who are subject to systematic racism from the police on a national scale, and these students are unlikely to call the campus police for an escort if they already felt unsafe walking around on campus.

Marginalized students are also more likely to be those who are feel most threatened walking around campus after dark and those students are also more likely to be apprehensive of police in general.  As one student, who wished to remain anonymous, said, ”Police do not make me feel safe. If the situation on campus feels so unsafe that I need a police escort something’s really wrong because the police themselves make me feel unsafe to begin with. I would have to really be in immediate fear for my life to counteract that fear of police.”

This new program was designed by the Evergreen Police and Residential and Dining (RAD) Services, not only to raise awareness, but to shed light on the gaps in services offered through student responses to the program, to alert the police and RAD to areas in student safety where they are falling short.

In discussing the issues marginalized students might have with police, Stacy Brown, the new chief of Evergreen police, and Sharon Goodman, the director of RAD services, made note of two possible solutions. One of which is trying to address students fears of police through encouraging students to spend time around the campus police and get to know them as people. That solution is not necessarily perfect as they themselves admitted because students who have already had bad experience with police would not attend such events. Another solution they were supportive of after it was mentioned, would be a student group starting their own “I’ll Walk With You” program. Though they mentioned there are problems with that as well, as some could sign up to be a student escort with bad intentions.

Safer Steps seems to have another gap that Brown and Goodman didn’t consider until asked. If a student was intoxicated on campus residence and felt unsafe walking back to their own, would they still be able to call the police? The short answer is yes, since campus police don’t make arrests or turn students over to Olympia Police Department when it comes to underaged drinking and similar things. The longer answer is that there are times, if the police knew the student had a substance abuse problem, for example, when they would alert Student Conduct of a student’s behavior.

Those in charge of the Safer Steps program suggest that students take self defense classes and carry personal defense items. However, there are currently no plans to supply students with self defense items. Though Goodman and Brown said that if they noticed there was a high enough demand they might start supplying students with items like rape whistles. The Greener Bookstore has recently started stocking more self defense style items such as “sound grenades,” small devices designed to scare off and disorient and potential attacker, as well as to alert those in surrounding areas to what was going on. Though many of those items may not be affordable to all students.

Neither Police Services nor RAD services, who run the program, currently offer any self defense classes. There are some self defense classes offered by the CRC or the Black Cottonwood Collective, an anarchist student group, but there are not part of the Safer Steps program. Brown stated that there is currently an officer training so they can provide self defense and awareness classes in the future. Brown said that those classes are planned to be up and running by the end of Winter quarter.

If students feel unsafe and don’t have access to a phone or lack reception on campus, there are the blue emergency phones at various locations around campus. Brown says that they all work and a response time is generally 3- 7 minutes from the time a person presses the button.

The Cops and Donuts event that had been scheduled to discuss this program with students was cancelled following information the school received about a “planned disruption.” This event was meant to be a couple days after Brown’s swearing in, billed as a welcome reception, where a student protest occurred, forcing the event to be cancelled. While Brown says that she want to encourage free speech and peaceful protests she also said, about peaceful protests in general,“it’s peaceful until it’s not” and that student safety was a concern.