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NDSP, SBPD offer safety tips to off-campus students

Emma Driscoll | Thursday, September 25, 2008

In response to the concerns of students who live off campus or have been victims of crimes, representatives from the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) and the Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) met with students Tuesday night in the Dooley Room of LaFortune to offer tips to help students protect themselves.

Only a handful of students attended the session held by SBPD Crime Prevention Specialist Cpl. Patrick Hechlinski and NDSP Crime Prevention Officer Keri Kei Shibata.

“The two most important things I can tell you are be alert and follow your instincts,” Shibata said.

She said that if a student is stopped by a potential attacker who asks him or her for an item, it is usually best to give the person what he or she wants. She reminded students to trust their judgment and listen to what their instincts tell them to do.

“Use your instincts. If you think you need to run, [then] run,” Shibata said.

Shibata said that most of the crimes that have been happening to students off-campus are “crimes of opportunity,” meaning assaults, larcenies, robberies and burglaries that are not always premeditated.

“People may see a person that they think is vulnerable, so they take advantage,” Shibata said. “As individuals, we can reduce opportunity.”

Individuals can take steps to ensure their own safety.

“Individuals can do more to protect themselves than police can,” Shibata said. “We really depend on you guys to be our eyes and ears, to let us know when something is going on somewhere … to protect yourselves and each other,” Shibata said.

“Keep your stuff in your car out of sight,” Hechlinski said. “Put your self in the shoes of the bad guy. Walk around the car, look in the windows and see if there is anything that would entice you to break in.”

Hechlinski said that he has seen cases where people broke into cars for items such as cell phone chargers, half-empty packs of cigarettes and spare change in cup holders and bags.

Both Hechlinski and Shibata advised students to keep track of the model and brand number listed on their property.

Hechlinski advised students not to leave boxes for new TVs, stereo equipment, computers or other expensive items in front of their garbage cans outside. These boxes should be broken down and put into garbage cans or bags.

“All [criminals] have to do is drive down the street, and they know exactly what you’ve got in [your residence],” Hechlinski said.

“If you can keep your property out of sight … you’re a lot less likely to be victimized,” Shibata said.

Students should use their alarm systems and be sure to always keep doors locked, even if people are home inside the house, Hechlinski said.

Shibata suggested that students find a creative way to make sure residents never leave doors unlocked.

“Maybe whoever leaves the door unlocked has to buy pizza,” Shibata said.

Shibata advised students who bike to and from campus to never stop for anyone.

“If somebody asks for help, ride on by and call us,” she said. “People will use that as a ploy to take advantage of you.”

Having a dog is another effective crime prevention tool, Shibata said.

Students should get to know their neighbors, when it is safe to do so, if possible.

“Once you have relationships with neighbors, they are more likely to call if they see something when you’re gone,” Shibata said.

When walking off-campus, it is important to stay alert.

“Make eye contact with people. Let them know you see them,” Shibata said.

NDSP’s Rape Aggression Defense classes offer “practical” and “easy” methods of defense against an attacker, Shibata said.

Shibata encouraged students to use the buddy system and to always make sure somebody knows where they are and when they are expected to return home.

“Look out for each other. Look out for your friends, your neighbors,” Shibata said.

If students choose to carry Mace, Shibata said, they should be aware of how to operate it.

“Remember that you will Mace yourself whenever you Mace someone else,” Shibata said.

Hechlinski said this happens because wind carries the Mace, and a lot of times it comes back to the person using the Mace for defense.

Hechlinski said that students should not give money to people who come to their doors.

“If you give them money, they’re going to come back and tell their buddies about it,” he said. Instead, Hechlinski said that students can call SBPD to help with people who come to their doors.

If students have parties, it is safe to always know the people in attendance.

“If you’re having a party at your house, make sure you know everybody who is there,” Shibata said. “Some people come with the sole purpose of blending in and looking at what you have.”

In order to reduce the risk of crimes against property while students are away on breaks, students can call and tell SBPD that they will be gone and SBPD can check on the residence, Shibata said. She also said that NDSP can store some valuables for students during breaks.

Shibata told students they never deserve to have crimes committed against them, but that she and Hechlinski were there to offer tips for preventing incidents.

“We’re never blaming the victim … as we talk about things you can do. You never deserve to be victimized,” Shibata said.

Hechlinski listed crime statistics from South Bend during the meeting.

“Crimes against persons are down. Crimes against property are up,” said Hechlinski, citing crime statistics comparing the same fall time frame in 2007 and 2008.

If students have ongoing problems in their neighborhoods, Hechlinski said to contact the SBPD shift commander who works during the time that incidents typically occur.

Hechlinski emphasized the importance of students reporting crimes in order to keep SBDP informed about problems in the community. He said that if an incident is not reported, than police do not know about the problem.

“A lot of people, things happen to them, they don’t report it,” he said. “If you’re not reporting it, we don’t know what is going on.”

Both Shibata and Hechlinski encouraged students to program the SBPD’s number into their cell phones in order to directly reach SBPD in the case of emergencies or to report suspicious behavior. The number is 574-235-9361.

Shibata invited students to contact NDSP with any ideas or to discuss any topics that interest or concern students.

“Let us know, we want to work with you. We want to help you. That’s why we’re here,” Shibata said.