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Trustees talk about off-campus safety

Aaron Steiner | Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Student government leaders told members of the University Board of Trustees that off-campus crime continues to be a concern among students and highlighted their efforts to address off campus safety concerns in a meeting before fall break.

In a presentation to the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees on Oct. 15, student body president Grant Schmidt, vice president Cynthia Weber and chief of staff Ryan Brellenthin said they are collaborating with University administrators and community leaders on a variety of projects related to safety off campus.

Schmidt emphasized that while local authorities say crime rates off campus have not increased this year, “it seems to be a rising concern for many students.”

Among a variety of efforts, the trio pointed first to their work on transportation — including a new Transpo public bus route aimed at students and potential new taxi regulations — as one method of increasing safety off campus.

Brellenthin said student government leaders met with local cab companies during the summer to “relay a number of student concerns to the cab companies while getting their input” on issues, including safety.

Weber said she and Schmidt were able to review the taxi ordinance during the summer and, along with city officials, are “throwing around the idea of establishing a price ceiling to increase the reliability of the cab companies.”

She also said officials are considering requiring that taxis have a standard placard inside detailing passenger rights, cab owner information and taxi identification information.

Weber said in their work with cab companies, student government leaders found there was “still a need for a reliably consistent method of transportation, because even if the taxi system in South Bend is really wonderful, there are still limitations.”

Schmidt told the committee the University, student government and local public transportation authority Transpo are finalizing a new public transportation route aimed at students.

“Transpo is a resource that’s already available to students; students can take this for free,” Schmidt said. He told committee members that students primarily use Transpo routes No. 7 and The Sweep, which offer service until approximately 1:15 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, which he indicated are peak times for students traveling to and from off campus locations.

“That’s when people are going off campus most often and that’s where the most problems occur,” Schmidt said.

The new route, Route 7A, is tentatively set to run from 9:20 p.m. to 3:20 a.m.
Schmidt said the route would take riders from library circle on the University campus past apartment complexes east of campus, throughout the northeast neighborhood and into the downtown South Bend area.

“It’s an 18-minute trip as we have it set right now, one way,” he said, or about 35 minutes roundtrip.

The representatives also spoke about their efforts to increase police patrols in student housing areas off campus.

Weber said students have continued to raise the prospect of Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) patrolling off campus, and student government has researched the idea, she said.
“We absolutely understand the objections and obstacles to this,” she said, naming concerns about boundaries, limitations of NDSP resources and issues regarding jurisdiction.

But Weber said other Indiana schools have overcome jurisdictional issues, and said boundaries could be based on the concentration of students living off campus and their vicinity to campus.

Brellenthin also told the committee about the possibility of using a federal, state or local grant to fund increased patrol presence in specific areas during specific times.
“We are working with the South Bend Police Department and the University on finding, researching and deciding which grant is the best option to pursue,” he said.

Schmidt, Weber and Brellenthin also took questions and heard comments from committee members during the presentation.

One trustee noted that should student government leaders request additional resources or different policies, they must have “a pretty compelling reason why you and your constituency should be treated differently.”

The Observer has a policy of not attributing quotes or information to specific members of the Board.

Another trustee stated that students living off campus should see themselves as “members of the community” and should recognize crime against any area resident — not just students — should be of concern.

The trustee added that efforts on behalf of students to address crime concerns should be focused on “how can we make the city better, not how can we make this better for the students who live in the city.”

Schmidt told the committee members that he believes students are aware of their role within the community, and told the group that student government will continue to focus on student safety issues.

The presentation Oct. 15 was the first of three Schmidt, Weber and Brellenthin will make to the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees this school year.