Campus Security Challenges Colleges

Spurred by incidents of violence, administrators and state legislatures are responding to demands for greater safety. UNIVERSITY LIFE

By , Special to the Christian Science Monitor

ALTHOUGH the parking structure is only 200 yards from her office, Julie Yerick, an administrative employee at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), refuses to walk to her car alone after dark. ``I use the campus escort service whenever I work late,'' says Ms. Yerick. ``If I know that a woman will be walking to her car by herself, I always offer to call an escort for her,'' she says. ``A lot of people are just unaware.''

Yerick's concern for her personal safety on campus is not unique. At most American colleges and universities, preventing crime and violence continues to be a major problem. According to Jonathan Brown, vice president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), campuses are not immune to society's worst elements. ``Campuses are great big public nuisances,'' he says. They are, he adds, ``an attractive area for people to converge upon,'' drawing not only academics, but less desirable influences as well.

Some recent incidents underline the problem:

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The 1985 rape of a young woman while she was studying inside the main library at UCLA.

The 1986 rape and murder of Jeanne Clery, then a student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., in her dormitory room.

Six reported rapes in the first two months of classes at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., last fall.

According to a 1989 California legislative report, one of four students was a victim of crime at American colleges in 1988. This figure mirrors the rate for the whole United States population. As public awareness of the problem increases, student and parent activist groups, campus administrators, and even state legislators are taking action.

Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, and Louisiana have passed legislation requiring both public and private colleges and universities within these states to provide records of any criminal activity on campus to the public. The first bill was passed in Pennsylvania in May 1988, primarily due to the lobbying efforts of Constance and Howard Clery following their daughter Jeanne's murder at Lehigh University.

``If I had been aware, I would definitely have changed my decision'' to send Jeanne to Lehigh, says Mrs. Clery. Supporters claim legislation requiring campuses to disclose their security statistics will force them to invest more in providing a safe environment on campus as well as allowing parents and students to make informed decisions when choosing a school.

Security on Campus, an organization started by Mrs. Clery, has been promoting this legislation throughout the country. Initially, she says, her aim was ``to get out some kind of guide that would show security, or lack thereof.'' But when attempts to gather information through questionnaires mailed to campuses across the country proved futile, Clery appealed to Pennsylvania lawmakers. ``The only way to improve security is to go the legislative route,'' she says.

But not everyone agrees.

A similar bill in California, which was passed unanimously by the Senate and by a vote of 65 to 5 in the House, was recently vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian. The governor, a former attorney general for California, told the legislators, ``While I am supportive of the intent of this bill, I am concerned that it would be too costly.''

Opponents, primarily private schools and community colleges, say the terms of compliance with the bill are prohibitively expensive. Besides the cost of compiling and distributing security statistics, some California institutions say this information is already available to the public.

Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., opposed the legislation initially but was neutral when it was sent to the governor. The school publishes this type of information each year in the New Stanford Farm Almanac, which is distributed to all new students. Peter Sidebottom, the assistant director of governmental relations for Stanford, says the almanac supplies crime statistics for the past three years. The report also includes safety precautions to heed while on campus.

But there is concern that this is not a common practice. Only 10 percent of America's colleges and universities voluntarily report crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its annual crime index, according to the California legislative report.

The office of state Sen. Art Torres indicates that he will be reintroducing the California bill this month. Similar bills are pending in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and in the US House and Senate.

The heightened public awareness and concern, highlighted by the pending legislation, has caused college administrators to reevaluate campus protection systems. Often considered cities within cities, many larger universities provide their own security forces, rather than relying on the local police.

John Barber heads the UCLA Department of Community Safety. In his office, which displays numerous awards of merit and recognition acquired during 33 years of law enforcement, he says, ``California is a model.'' Schools around the country call UCLA officials to ask what they do, how they do it, and where the money comes from.

``We have been blessed with state [police] officers on all UC campuses as well as the 19 state university campuses,'' Barber says .

But Barber is quick to emphasize that the state officers are only half the campus police department. He says the key to the University of California system is the interaction between the sworn officers and the Community Service Officer (CSO) program. Barber refers to the CSOs as a ``civilianized police agency.''

The CSO program offers an escort and van service, available to anyone on campus. It extends a mile off the school grounds and operates from dusk to 1 a.m. CSOs also continually patrol campus facilities, providing a ``visual deterrent to crime,'' according to Donna Capraro, the assistant director of the program (see related story).

UCLA's program has a combined annual operating budget of $5 million. Noting that many schools may not have more than $500 devoted to security, Barber offers some simple advice: Recruit the students. ``Students are an extremely effective [labor force],'' he says. The CSO program started in 1975 with seven volunteers and today handles the paperwork for one-third of the police department's 3,900 criminal reports each year.

In 1983, UCLA reported 2,246 major criminal offenses. The projection for 1989, according to Barber, is 1,350, down 40 percent.

While safety is still a concern, UCLA's statistics show that programs are proving effective. Barber credits the interaction between a committed administration, a motivated student body, and the local police as key factors in curbing violence. It takes all these groups working together to do the job, because, as Barber says, ``[crime is] everywhere, a universal problem.''

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