With increased budget, security expands over last two years

By Alex Park

Macalester Safety and Security released its annual crime report for 2007 on Tuesday, a compilation of crime statistics culled from police records and the security logbook. Few aspects of the report this year differ from predictions made by its authors earlier in the year. Following a two-year decline in crime throughout the city, the number of incidents of most types of crime on or near campus has decreased or stagnated since 2006. The number of arsons decreased from two to zero and forcible sex offenses from three to one. The number of burglaries stayed at five and robberies remained at two. There were no homicides or aggravated assaults.

One notable exception was motor vehicle theft, which spiked from one incident in 2006 to four in 2007, approaching the 2005 high of six incidents, all of which occurred off campus.

The number of drug and alcohol violations referred for disciplinary action both increased sharply, reflecting some changes in Residential Life training policies, Dean of Students Jim Hoppe said.

Overall, administrators say, the numbers this year reflect a campus climate that is relatively safe, virtually no better or worse than years past.

Yet with so few incidents of any kind, it is hard, Hoppe and Gorman agree, to gauge any trends from the report.

With just 15 robberies and eight aggravated assaults anywhere in the neighborhood last year, Mac-Groveland is, statistically speaking, one of the safest neighborhoods in one of the safest cities of its size in the United States.

But as remote as the threat of violent crime is, a perception of safety is not universal among students. In a survey responded to by a nearly a quarter of the student body last October, 17 percent of respondents said they felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe” walking on or near campus at night.

Beginning last year, partly because of increased public interest and partly because of a swelling departmental budget, security at Macalester began to issue some significant upgrades to its regime. The first of these began in the fall-a new student security dispatcher to prioritize calls and coordinate the response of security personnel.

Prior to last fall, no triage system existed at night to determine which calls should be answered first. Calls were answered in the order they were received, like customer service inquiries to an 800 number. But the new work-study position means that a student can sort the calls for security, ensuring that in the foreseeable event that one person calls for a request to be let into their room and another calls afterward about a suspicious person hovering outside of their room, security knows to go to the latter first.

A little over a year after its implementation, Gorman, along with Franz Meyer ’09, the MCSG President last year, both say the initiative has been “extremely successful.”

And timely.

Last year, security received a number of complaints from students about slow responses to urgent situations. The most damning of these occurred last February, in the aftermath of a dance in the Campus Center, when a fight broke out between Macalester students and others from the University of Minnesota. Two Macalester students received minor cuts and bruises, and the officers assigned to the dance had not reported for work that night.

This incident, along with some other more general complaints about the quality of the services provided led to some “long talks” between the administration and Macalester’s security contractor, American Security, according to Meyer.

In the future, Gorman says, the dispatcher will be instrumental in coordinating security when an emergency like that ensues and officers on duty are on campus but preoccupied with less critical matters.

This year also saw the addition of another person on duty for the evening shift, ensuring that more than one officer will be available on campus for every hour of the day except between the hours of 3 and 6 a.m.

One final advantage added to the safety and security arsenal last spring is a text message alert system dubbed “Mac Alert.” Students, faculty, and anyone else with a cell phone and a Macalester e-mail address can register their number through the “Mac and Beyond” tab on 1600grand and receive alerts in the event of a campus-wide emergency.

That the technology was developed a few years ago but gained publicity following the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007 that claimed the lives of 33 students and faculty. But to date, the system has only been deployed once at Macalester for an emergency, during the power outage in March. Gorman says the incident proved the inherent value of the system. Registered students were directed to the Campus Center to receive instructions, and “within ten minutes, people started showing up,” he said.

So far, a little more than 800 people have signed up for Mac Alert, but, Gorman said, “we’re hoping for more.”

And what about all those bike thefts last year? Facilities Management may be installing more, better bike racks in the near future, both to accommodate the growing number of bikes on campus and to keep the existing ones more secure.

Last year, an entire rack in Kirk was cleared out in a matter of nights, part of a surge in theft that Security still believes was the work of an organized group from outside the area.

Mark Stonehill ’09 of MacBike said that preventing theft is largely a matter of identifying trends in theft, such as what bikes are taken, and where they are taken from.

“A lot of racks around campus were built without security in mind,” Stonehill said.

One rack that has been especially hard hit in recent years is the one just outside the Veggie Coop, underneath the stadium. Stonehill said that the rack’s proximity to a busy street, its relative distance from the parts of campus most active at night and the poor lighting on the rack all make it an easy target for thieves.

A proposed solution, Stonehill said, has been to build a new rack in a better-lit location, such as in the stadium parking lot- taking a space that is used for cars and making it useful for bikes.

Funds have already been set aside for new racks in different areas throughout campus. One outside Dupre will be installed soon.