Q&A Archives

President's Q&A, April 2012

April 26, 2012

The following excerpts come from Dr. Perman’s group Q&A on April 16 at the School of Social Work auditorium. The Q&A was devoted to a single topic: campus safety. University Police Chief Tony Williams was the guest speaker.

Dr. Perman: In view of understandable concerns relating to safety and security on campus, I thought we would change the format today and keep it topic specific and talk frankly about campus security. What we’re talking about here is not simply the matter of a campus; it’s a matter of community.

We are an open campus that sits in an open urban environment with all the challenges of an urban environment. That’s the case here and, believe me, we’re not moving the University. So we have to deal with what we can do as a campus. I want you to buy into the concept that everything we do in this University in order to make this place better is our response to crime. It’s making a better society, as trite as that might sound. I’ve heard from parents, ‘Is it safe for my kid to be at the University of Maryland, Baltimore?’ It’s a legitimate question.

Some of you know that I raised a daughter and a son-in-law in this medical school on this campus so I understand what it means to be a parent of students at this campus and I’m sensitive to that. So what do we need to do? What can we do as individuals and as a group to learn how to be safer in a big-city urban environment? I’m going to ask Chief Williams to begin the discussion.

Chief Williams: Thank you for this opportunity. Dr. Perman said something that I really subscribe to and I hope you do, too, when he talks about transforming the community and being a pillar and an anchor in the community. To some of you that sounds like fluff, but that’s why I do what I do. I don’t get any joy out of running around and arresting people. But what we hope to accomplish are some life-changing and community-changing events—and this University is in a great place to do that.

One of the things that Sir Robert Peel said—who was legendary in the world of policing as chief of the London metropolitan police in the 1800s—was the police are the community and the community is the police. He said the police really are no more than people who get paid to do a job that is really everyone’s responsibility. So I would behoove us all to get involved. Our motto in this police department is that Safety Begins with You. The police don’t work alone in public safety. We need your participation as well.

I’d like to talk for a few minutes about crime statistics. If you look at our past three years of crime statistics, which are posted at UMB Police and Public Safety, you might say, ‘Oh my, what happened in 2010?’ and think there was a big spike in crime. Actually there was a big spike in crime information, because that year, which is when I arrived on campus, is when we were able to get reports and statistics from the Baltimore 

City Police Department to augment our own University data. Even with the numbers you see, it’s still a lot of zeros, quite frankly.

Most of the crime that occurs on this campus is what we refer to as property crime. There is more chance that someone will have belongings taken from their office or car as opposed to being robbed. That’s not to say we’re not concerned, but that is our reality.

Thanks to your help we have seen major gains from the 189 theft crimes we had at the University in 2010. You listened when we told you to take your belongings with you, to lock your offices, close your doors when you go out, lock your cars. Crimes against property in the first quarter of 2011 were 45; this year—15. You look at thefts—21 in the first three months of 2011; this year we’ve had nine. Thank you for pitching in and helping us out.

Statistics are one of the things we use when making comparisons but they are not the only thing. For instance, I’m often asked to compare our campus and that of Johns Hopkins Homewood. Our University sits entirely on public property with many public streets running through it. If you look at Hopkins on a map, you will see many green spaces— athletic fields and the like—and there is not one public street that goes through it. So when we look at other places and want to compare, let’s make sure we look at things that are comparable to our environment.

If something happens on a public street outside any of our buildings or on the sidewalk, we have to report it in our crime statistics. This campus is still much better off than the areas outside of our jurisdiction. We’ll continue to try to do a good job and concentrate on keeping you safe within our borders.

Now I want to talk about alerts and notifications. Let me say this very candidly. Doing alerts and notifications is a nowin scenario. Every single time you do it, even if you send something out five seconds after an incident has occurred, someone is going to ask, why did you send this, it’s not enough information, it’s too much information.

Here are the requirements. First, we have to follow the Jeanne Clery Act, a law that tells us when we have to send messages out, and what our requirements and responsibilities are. That handbook is 220 pages of material we have to abide by. Simply stated there are two criteria we have to look at. One, is it a Clery reportable crime? In other words, is it on the list of incidents that we have to report?

No. 2, is there a continuing threat of danger to the University of Maryland, Baltimore? That right there is open to some interpretation. We have to make judgments based on the facts and circumstances available to us. Take the shooting at the Plaza Garage last October. Some people wanted to know why didn’t you send out a text alert? There’s an armed gunman on the loose. Well, we look at the circumstances. We knew within two or three minutes after that shooting that the suspect was gone from this campus. Now, is there a continuing threat of danger? People shoot people and they rob people in the city. Then they run. I know this from spending 20-some years in the city police working homicide. The last place they want to be is standing waiting for the police to get there.

So we evaluate that and determine if there is a continuing threat to the University. So those are the two things we look at when we send messages out. And the crime incidents have to occur within our area of responsibility.

Recently when a medical student was assaulted in front of Pickles Pub, we were asked, ‘Why didn’t you send out a text alert?’ Well, not that we’re not concerned. In fact, our officers contacted the student to see if we could offer assistance. But in terms of putting out an alert, here’s the thing: Pickles Pub is not a part of our campus, we don’t have jurisdiction there so we don’t report it. That might sound a little harsh but that’s our reality. Someone said, ‘Chief, you send out messages about random events that don’t even involve people at our campus. Why would you do that?’ It’s simple. It’s a Clery reportable crime and it happened in my area of responsibility.

We’ve also been doing a better job of getting information out. Some people see that and think we have more crime than we used to. The reality is you’re getting better quality information than you had before. And some of you have asked for that, quite frankly. Overall, we’re striving to get it right. There’s a whole communications committee working to improve that process. We’re looking at social media and other avenues to issue better quality information in a more timely fashion. We also have a public safety survey coming out soon that I hope you will complete. We’re also going to re-establish the Safety Begins with You brochure.

In terms of patrols, we’re walking foot patrols more, getting officers out of their cars. Responding to your requests, we’re working intersections more with officers wearing traffic vests. We’ve realigned our patrols to offer better service at night. And we’re beginning to utilize Segways, which are brilliant transportation vehicles for police.

They can go places where a car can’t go—where even a bicycle can’t go. Highly visible, they’re environmentally friendly. They don’t use gasoline, they run on house current batteries. We charge them up and they last pretty much all day.

We’re also using our campus cameras to be more pro-active in responding to problems, directing our patrol force to incidents and conditions that may need attention.

Another thing we’re working on is a better shuttle program. Public Safety doesn’t operate the University shuttle program, but I thought it was something we could work on to improve. We have a great committee working on that. If the information we’re looking at now pans out, the shuttle program’s going to be fantastic. It’ll be leaps and bounds above what we have now.

Also I’d like to talk very quickly about services. One of the things we ask you is to call us for escorts. We provide essentially three types of escorts. Walking, ride in the police van, and sometimes we’ll pick people up in the police car and ride them. We’ve seen some slight increases in use yet I would still encourage you and those you work with to call us for an escort (410-706-6882 or ext. 6-6882 from a campus phone). We’re working to make some changes to provide even better customer service.

Also as far as services, we’re going to continue to give you good information and statistics. If I could ask one favor of all of you it’s this: If you need crime statistics for any reason come to us and ask and we’ll give you what you need. We can explain it and clarify it. We don’t hide anything. Matter of fact we maintain a crime log every day in the police station. You can walk in there Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and see all the crime you want.

How many of you know we have a Crime Prevention and Awareness Committee at this University? Some of you know because you have participated. Cpl. J.R. Jones is our crime and safety awareness officer. He works with the committee. So we’re asking people, particularly students, to get involved.

I appreciate the opportunity to share our information with you. That being said, now we’d like to take some questions.

Q: Dr. Perman: I’ll take the prerogative of asking the first question. What do you think of my using my cellphone text messaging and emailing while I’m walking across campus. Am I being smart?

Chief Williams: You are smart. My mother didn’t raise no dummy. [Crowd laughs] But to get serious, here’s the thing. The robberies that have occurred to our people on this campus have all involved cellphones. So we have asked and please pass this on: Don’t be distracted by texting or talking on your phone while you are walking. It seems there’s a big problem with this. There are some dynamics at play here. Some of it, quite frankly, has gang implications to it. Very simply stated if you are walking the streets, whether you’re on this campus or not, it would be a wise thing not to be texting or talking on your phone.

One of the things we’re pushing is to have the University emergency number [410-706-3333] programmed into your cellphone so you can just speed-dial us. That’s an excellent suggestion and we have a campaign coming out with a host of things to emphasize. That’s something all of us can do to prevent something from happening.

Q: I’ve seen in another situation people had whistles. I don’t know if you recommend that or maybe pepper spray?

We actually give out whistles to students. A whistle is a very simple crime prevention tool. It’s very easy. We recognize it draws attention. If someone suspicious is approaching believe me you start blowing that whistle loud the approaching person says ‘I don’t know what’s going on or if this person’s crazy.’ It might sound funny or foolish, but it’s actually a good prevention and deterrent technique that we encourage. As far as pepper spray, legally we can’t carry pepper spray on this campus. We have a policy against carrying weapons and pepper spray is considered a weapon. So I can’t endorse that.

Q: Do you want to know about panhandlers and vagrants lying on benches, hanging out around cars, and things like that?

If you see it absolutely call us because we’ll deal with it. Now there is no law against panhandling in our state. So we have to treat it astutely. Yes, we want to know because we can talk to people. Sometimes just talking to people is enough to persuade them that we’re paying attention. For example, I can tell you when I’m driving into work west on Martin Luther King Boulevard, panhandlers don’t cross Franklin or Mulberry Street. They know the next street is Saratoga and that’s ours so they stay away because they know better. We want to reach the point where they feel that way about the whole campus. So legally if we can harass them we will, so yes, please call us. 

Q: Chief Williams, you gave the example of the student at Pickles Pub who was off campus and outside your jurisdiction. Could you tell the group more about what is on campus as far as the patrolling and your report?

It’s a little complicated, but the simplest way is to look at the campus map. The corner with Russell Street and Camden Yards, that’s not ours. By the BioPark, it’s only the 800 block of W. Baltimore St. We have a legal agreement where we patrol in a certain area that is a couple blocks off our campus. We have to report some of that territory. But if you want to know what are we responsible for, what’s on campus, it’s this area on the map, bordered by West Saratoga Street on the north to West Pratt Street on the south and then Paca Street on the east to Martin Luther King Boulevard on the west. Then we pick up the BioPark across Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Now what makes it a little more complicated is that as the campus stands, if we own, lease, operate, or control a building in this city that’s part of our jurisdiction and we have to report on it. As we expand more we’ll be responsible for reporting those areas. I know a lot of people view that if it is within walking distance it’s on campus, but it’s not on campus. It’s important for us because as much as we care and are concerned we don’t have jurisdiction. We don’t police down by Camden Yards, we can’t police Pickles Pub, we don’t police west of the 800 block of Baltimore St. or Fayette St. 

Dr. Perman: Let me just expand on that to provoke a little discussion. For me, this is a very tough issue. Some of you may recall, and I hope I don’t agitate anybody, there was an incident at McDonald’s over here. Two guys got into a fight. People who have nothing to do with our University in a McDonalds. And there was a subset of students who felt very strongly that that should be reported and it was. Now, I don’t know about that! I mean where is the end of it? In terms of doing the right thing, but using common sense. I’m just asking this rhetorically. 

Audience Member: I agree it should have been reported. I was the one assaulted on the train in February. Not one person did anything, they were all scared to death, except for a nursing student and he came to my rescue and he got punched and bloodied. That was not reported and I understand why from what you said. But I think it should have been reported. There are some people here who take the train and take the light rail and you just have to tell them. There were two people from this University who were hurt; there were two others who work at this University who were witnesses. That’s four University of Maryland people who were involved. I think the whole campus should know about it. 

Dr. Perman: You know I’m very concerned and disappointed in terms of what happened to you and I’m sure I speak for the campus. But the problem for me is where is the end of that? If that had happened on the light rail that you took from here in Timonium would you have said the same? 

Chief Williams: It’s a tough situation it really is. But the question of where it ends … what the law says is even if something happens to you near our campus or involves people who work or study at your campus, that’s not enough to make us put out an alert about it and report it to the entire campus community. I understand your feelings.

Dr. Perman: We have time for one more question.

Q: College Park has rolled out to the campus community to film crime as they see it and bring it to the police department. Would that empower people here to do that? Though I know you said to keep our cellphones out of sight.

Chief Williams: Yes, College Park is experimenting with that and we’re looking at that and want to see some data to evaluate how it works before we consider it here.

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