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Slow security response raises questions

Liz Harter | Thursday, April 17, 2008

This is the first article in a two-part series examining student concerns of security policies at Saint Mary’s College. Part two will run next Thursday.

With the recent number of security problems that have occurred on both the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame campuses in the form of burglaries and trespassers, many College students have raised questions about the effectiveness of Saint Mary’s Security.

“The only functions I see [Saint Mary’s] Security performing are making sure students get from parking lots and Notre Dame to their dorms safely, ticket cars for parking violations and provide a lost and found,” junior Jessie Sobczyk said. “Maybe they have other purposes, but I don’t know about them.”

The Saint Mary’s student handbook says that “members of the Department of Safety and Security will act in the best interests of public safety, respecting the rights of all members of this community and its guests” and director of Security Dave Gariepy said all members of the staff are fully trained.

There are 28 security personnel employed by the College, he said, with three officers per shift and a fourth who drives the escort vehicle, Blinkie, at night.

But even with these assurances of a secure campus, there are many students who think the security department isn’t operating to its fullest potential, including a student who said Security “brushed off” her and the safety of Regina Hall residents with their reaction to a security alert raised on April 5.

She said it took two phone calls to Saint Mary’s Security for Security respond to her claims that a “suspicious … white man with a shiny, bald head” was walking on the road behind Regina at 11 p.m. on April 5.

The Saint Mary’s student, who is a resident of Regina Hall, requested anonymity for fear of her safety from the man whom she saw on the roof. The Observer respected her request for anonymity in order to give a more detailed account of Saint Mary’s Security’s response to this incident. Another Regina Hall resident who corroborated the student’s account also asked to remain anonymous for fear of her safety and for fear of disciplinary actions from Saint Mary’s Security.

“Whenever a car would drive down [Augusta Drive] he would move up against the building, so I knew he didn’t belong,” said the student who placed the calls to Security.

The student then said the man tried climbing onto a construction truck parked near the hall. At about 10:50 p.m., she placed a call to Security and spoke with a dispatcher. However, according to the student, this first call was not answered promptly.

The man then climbed onto the construction vehicle and the onto an awning and used the awning to propel himself onto the lower roof of Regina Hall. The student called Security again at 11:04 p.m.

“I was told something to the effect of ‘Well, I know they are doing some work on the roof, so he is probably just a worker, but we will send somebody out to do a spot check shortly’ [by the security dispatcher],” the student said.

According to a security alert issued to Saint Mary’s about the event on April 7, the initial responding officer saw a male who fit the description the student had given Security and called for backup, which arrived shortly thereafter.

Gariepy said Security responded quickly to the student’s call.

The student said she saw a Saint Mary’s Security guard arrive at approximately 11:10 p.m. when she parked her car on the south side of the building and walked north while looking at the roof. The student said the man saw the security guard and ran toward the south side of the roof, away from the officer and looked back toward the Security car.

“I’m guessing he saw that it was a Security car because he literally ran to the front of the building,” she said. The student lost sight of the man. Saint Mary’s Security said they don’t know who the man is and there has been no additional information indicating the man is still on Saint Mary’s campus.

The student then left her room on the second floor and informed the residents on her floor of the situation. She then told the Regina front-desk worker what was occurring and asked that she call the Security Department as well.

The student said she saw the Security Department physically check the roof though the man had escaped sometime between the time she went to the front desk and when the security guards climbed to the roof.

“[The front desk worker] said the situation had been cleared,” she said. “[I] told her that they definitely did not catch the man so she called [Security] again and they said they were ‘in the middle of something’ and would call her back later.”

The alert said “there should not be anybody working on the roof of buildings during nighttime hours unless Security has been made aware of it.”

The student did not think the man was a construction worker because he was not wearing workman’s attire.

“He had no tools, no flashlight and was wearing normal clothes,” she said.

The student said she was disappointed with Saint Mary’s Security’s reaction time to her first phone call placed at 10:50 p.m.

“If [Security] hears of a suspicious man near a residence hall … they need to make that their first priority and rush everyone available to the scene,” the student said. “Security should not have brushed off my first call and should have arrived within that 5-10 minutes it took from the time I called until the time [the man] got on the roof.”

When asked about the student’s allegations of a slow response to the first phone call placed about 10:50 p.m., Gariepy said he did not know if they were accurate or not.

“The student did not come forward to speak to me and our records indicate that only one call was received with officers responding quickly,” he said. Gariepy did not specify whether Saint Mary’s Security received a call about 10:50 p.m. or at 11:04 p.m.

While the student said she doesn’t know why the man climbed onto the roof she said she is worried he may have been trying to enter the building.

“I feel that if I wouldn’t have called [Security] he could have entered through unlocked or even broken into locked windows and entered into the secured part of Regina, where residents live,” she said, referring to the fact that a Saint Mary’s I.D. card must be used to access the area where students live.

Gariepy said the roof and campus were patrolled after and the suspect was not located.

“There was no additional suspicious activity reports to indicate [the man] was still here,” he said.

Gariepy said the security alert was not distributed on campus until the Monday following the event because there was no immediate threat to students.

“The alert was sent as a precaution to inform the campus of the suspicious activity from the weekend and to request community members to call when activity such as this is spotted,” he said. “The alert was not sent sooner as no immediate or continuing threat was identified to warrant such an alert.”

Gariepy said he is willing to investigate the student’s claims that the situation was handled incorrectly and the security report filed is inaccurate but to do so the student must step forward to make the accusations herself.

“If our reporting of the incident is not accurate I am happy to investigate further,” he said. “I would need the testimony from the complainant to properly conduct a thorough investigation of her accusations.”

Senior Jeney Anderson said she thinks Security needs to change their attitude towards students when they call for assistance.

“I think Security needs to be a bit more diligent and courteous to the students of Saint Mary’s,” Anderson said. “I know a lot of girls who won’t call [Security] when they should because they do not feel like ‘putting up’ with them.”

Look for the second article in this series next Thursday.

Mandi Stirone contributed reporting to this article.