Q&A Archives

President's Q&A, November 2011

November 21, 2011

The following are excerpts from Dr. Perman’s Q&A on Nov. 21 at the School of Nursing.

Dr. Perman: We are going to devote a significant portion of this Q&A to a continuation of a discussion we had the last time we got together in this way and that is campus security. I’ve asked our chief of police, Tony Williams, to make some remarks and answer your questions in that regard.

I will have a Q&A in December so we can catch up on some of the questions we have received on the Q&A line that we don’t cover today. 

I do want to update you on a corollary effort that is taking place around Lexington Market. Most of you know that I happily accepted the responsibility this past June to co-chair the Westside Task Force with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and about 50 other very good citizens. The focus is on Westside redevelopment. It’s an issue that’s very important to me personally. I’ve been a Baltimorean for most of these past 27 or 28 years and what has or has not evolved in this area between Charles Street and this campus has always been a matter of concern to me. I made up my mind when I came back that I would look for ways to make a difference in that regard because I do think that improvement of the Westside will make a big difference to this University.

And, of course, a focal point of the Westside is the Lexington Market. I remember when the Lexington Market was very much a part of this campus and vice versa—people were very comfortable about coming over to the market. It’s a landmark in Baltimore. But in recent years, concerns have evolved with regard to safety, with regard to appearance, with regard to what’s offered at the market. And I agreed with the mayor when we began this task force that our early attention would be to making a difference around the market.

Now I want to share a few of those things with you because they’re not always things that people notice. For instance, there has been power washing that has occurred with regard to the metro stop and the bus stop. There has been attention paid to things like loose bricks, to potholes, to storm drains. 

One of the huge problems that vexes everybody around the market is the sort of free-for-all in crossing streets. It’s perilous to walk; it’s perilous to be a driver. One of the things we’ve done as part of the task force is to have some additional attention given to pedestrian safety between 11:30 and 2:30. 

Now I don’t mind anybody for being cynical and saying, ‘That’s great about potholes and loose bricks and dealing with the jaywalkers, but that’s not enough.’ But it’s a start in my opinion and I hope it demonstrates our commitment as a University partnering with the city to make a difference around the market. 

Now there’s no question that what’s uppermost on everybody’s mind around the University is safety. I thought in view of the many questions we received since the incident in the garage about a month ago that we should have Chief Williams come and take a piece of this Q&A. Chief?

Chief Tony Williams: There are a couple of things I’d like to discuss and then I’d be happy to take questions. First we will talk about some overall crime numbers around campus and then we’ll talk about the aftermath of the garage shooting. 

What you have before you is a spreadsheet of the overall crime statistics on this campus [see first chart, Page 12]. We report crime statistics every month to the Maryland State Police. Those statistics subsequently go to the FBI. What you see are our numbers from 2008 to date in 2011. As you can see, those violent crimes we are especially sensitive to—including murders, rapes, and aggravated assault—those numbers are very favorable. We don’t say that those numbers are acceptable. But in terms of what’s going on outside of our campus area, our numbers are most favorable.

There might be some people who say our campus is overrun with crime but that’s just not the case. Yet the reality is if the person is afraid, it means we have more work to do. Actually the biggest crime problem on this campus is theft. The good thing about that is that those crimes can be prevented in large part if all of us—not just the police and security force—do our part. 

You might ask what can we do? The things we tell our students and others is when you leave your office, lock it and take any valuables with you. If you leave a watch or a laptop or something of value just lying around, it will get picked up.

We have also been going forth with some public information campaigns, going to all the schools and buildings on campus giving out fliers and I’ve been writing monthly columns for the VOICE newsletter. In addition to the great stories you see in the VOICE each month, read it and get some valuable safety tips as well. 

I can tell you as a former commander of the Western District in Baltimore City, I’d be very happy to have the numbers on this chart for one month let alone a whole year if I was still in that position. So to put things in perspective, there’s a lot going on that fortunately doesn’t penetrate our borders. With that being said, do we have work to do? Absolutely. I’d like to talk a bit about where we are since the shooting of Oct. 13 at 6 p.m., a time and date that my force and I have stuck in the forefront of our minds.

Since that date we have put police officers right outside that garage to provide a strong police presence to dissuade criminals and reassure you. We also check the garage and the University of Maryland Medical Center security force also has been with us occasionally as we stand outside and watch and go into the garage to check. We also walk through the plaza park.

Besides that we have a plan in place that we have already initiated to conduct a full-scale security survey of every parking garage on this campus, not just the Plaza Garage. We certainly thank Dr. Perman and Kathy Byington [vice president for administration and finance, who oversees campus public safety] for blessing our plan. There is a team that has been put together that is going out to fully assess every garage and to do it objectively so it’s not just someone’s opinion that is emotionally based. 

At the end of that assessment we’ll make recommendations and then we’ll take it from there. A question that probably everyone is asking is are we going to put cameras in the garage? The emotional thing to say is yes; we absolutely should do that. We’ll take that into consideration. This whole survey process will collect information from focus groups and questionnaires and then the data will be analyzed. So this won’t be something done in a vacuum. I’m pleased to say that the leadership here is very intent on studying the situation and helping us make the garages safer. 

So we have increased visibility, we’re assessing all the garages, we’re closely monitoring what goes on at those garages, and we’re holding talks like these to give people information.

Now on a broader scale, a lot of the concern is about communication, especially emergency notification: When do we do it? How do we do it? That whole process and system is being revamped. The whole idea is to get you actionable information in a timely fashion. So we’re working on that. In the meantime, we have an interim mechanism in place where if something happens and we need to get you information I can directly send a message to everyone on this campus in a timely manner. So that’s the game plan as we prepare to move ahead to a permanent solution that will be multi-modal. By that, I mean we will be able to notify you through text message, email, or public address announcement systems in our buildings. If I could by a show of hands, how many of you are signed up for UM Alerts? That’s great. The few of you who haven’t signed up can do so online on the UM Alerts page. Only a little over 2,300 of the 10,000 or so people we have at this University are signed up for UM Alerts so we need to keep promoting that. The best system in the world won’t work if people aren’t signed up for it. 

We have some programs we’ve been working on. Some of those involve increased enforcement. We’ve been out doing more traffic, looking at intersections. We’ve been giving out more tickets quite frankly. We’ve been running radar and got some positive feedback from that. We’ll continue to do those things that keep us safe. Some people say, ‘Hey, why are you stopping me? I work at the University.’ Unfortunately we can’t be that selective. We cast that net and we want everyone to obey the rules. Quite frankly we should be setting the example by following the rules, not looking for a way out.

I know I gave you just a brief quick overview of where we are today pertaining to public safety and where we are headed. I’d be happy to take a couple questions.

Dr. Perman: I promised them that you would update them on our plans around Lexington Market.

Chief Williams: Our University Police Force is part of a program to increase enforcement and to have an increased police presence around the market. The problems at the market go back a long time and those issues are more than strict crime problems. They are also socioeconomic problems and while we don’t propose we can solve every one of those problems overnight, we also recognize that going in and making a bunch of arrests and then pulling out isn’t a solution.

So we are committed to doing some things to help over the long haul. For example, we have a commitment for the next two years to work in concert with the Baltimore Police Department and the Mass Transit Administration police to walk around and in Lexington Market. 

Now what we’ve also done, especially in light of the recent incident that we had in the garage, we’ve increased our presence there to be there later in the day. So we will have officers around that market until about 8 at night. I invite you if you have to walk to your car past Lexington Market, whether it’s day or in the evening, if you don’t see us please call us because we can get someone there to escort you. The request for escorts has not increased since the shooting. So what that’s telling me is though we are concerned we are not fully utilizing the services that are available.

We have made a few arrests in the market, but what we’re really trying to do is change a culture that has been in place for a long time. We want to be visible, we want you to feel better about being around the market. 

Dr. Perman: Let me just mention on this point that there is some very good teamwork going on between the officers of the three agencies and a drug counselor who has been made available by the Downtown Partnership. I’m oversimplifying this and getting into my friend Chief Williams’ business, but basically for those who are doing drug deals they get something of a choice. You go to Central Booking or you arrange for treatment in a drug prevention program. 

Q: Chief, you alluded to statistics outside the University. In the future would it possible for you to share with us the crime statistics outside the campus so people can get a better picture of where we are?

The answer is yes. We’ve already begun to work on that [resulting in the second chart, Page 12]. I’ve personally met with the deputy commissioner of administration from the Baltimore Police Department and we’re working on a way to get those statistics sent to us every month. Not only do I believe it will help us and make people feel better about what we have here in terms of our conditions, but we also can maybe use it as a marketing tool for this University to allay the fears of those who’ve maybe seen “The Wire” or “Homicide on the Street” on TV and think they don’t want to attend a university, even one as great as ours, in Baltimore.

Q: In keeping with the same point and Dr. Perman’s desire to have a positive effect on the surrounding community, on behalf of the Staff Senate, and I think I can speak for the students, too, we’d like to be part of that teamwork. If you have more eyes and ears on the street perhaps we can help you and in the process elevate UMB.

Chief Williams: I agree 100 percent. There are a couple mechanisms to do that. We have a Safety Awareness Committee that’s comprised of people from all areas of the University. We invite you to become a part of that because not only does that allow us to communicate our information out, but it’s a great way to get information as well.

Q: With the VA Medical Center and the hospital right in the middle of our campus can you comment on what the numbers would look like if you added those two? And are there any plans for more of a communication exchange between those institutions and us?

he hospital has its own security force. If something happens crime-wise in that hospital, for our purposes of reporting, those stats would be captured under public property because the University does not own the hospital.

In terms of communication, Stephen Moyer, director of security for the Medical Center, and I have a great rapport. We knew each other before we came to our respective positions. In fact, the night of the garage shooting, Director Moyer and myself met and started planning what became joint patrols around Plaza Garage. So we are doing some of the collaborative activities and communication you were asking about.

Q: What efforts are being made to ensure security on behalf of employees and students walking to Howard Street for public transportation?

Again what I would recommend is to let us know. People can call us and we’re happy to give escorts. We also operate a van service that you can call and we’ll gladly give you a ride to areas of the campus.

While we’re on the topic of transportation I’ve begun to collaborate with Dr. Roger Ward [interim vice president of academic affairs] to come up with one good quality van program for this University. What’s happening now is we have one van service operated out of student affairs and the police operate a van and shuttle service. Quite frankly, I think they both could be improved so I don’t see why we can’t collaborate and come up with one good van system. We’ve put a team together to start the talks and we plan to invite input from the entire University and come up with a recommendation for a van system that is accessible, available, meets the needs of our community, and be safe. 

Q: I’m a postdoctoral student and I’d like to speak on behalf of students, many of us who have to work in labs at night and on weekends. Initially there were two Caravans on weekdays and one working on weekends. Now there’s only one Caravan working on weekdays and no Caravans working on weekends. Often we have to be here til 8 at night or later so I think it would be safer to have more Caravan service available. I have written to the administration about this issue and to student services. There is an urgent need for this service.

Chief Williams: I certainly am aware of that issue now and I will work with Dr. Ward on the Caravan service, which is not run by the University Police Force. But please feel free to call public safety if you need a ride or escort—be it at night or on the weekend. We never shut down so we’re here to help. 

Dr. Perman: Let me say we will solve the Caravan problem and I thank you for bringing up the point.

Q: Why can’t the crime alert reports that come out from the police just go to everyone on campus at the same time instead of coming to those of us who then have to distribute them?

Chief Williams: Great question. The system that is in place here, quite frankly, inherently causes the delay. There are two ways to get messages to you. One is through UM Alerts, which sends texts or email via e2campus. Or we can contact you directly through the campus email network. If we use the UM Alert system to send a text message, everyone who signed up will get that text message. If you signed up for the email component of e2campus, everyone will get it, but we don’t know how long it will take for you to get it. Sometimes it can be two or three hours later. 

On the other hand on the campus network, as I understand it, there is a contact list that the police department uses and then that group is responsible for sending it out to other people. Part of that may be concerns about clogging up the computer network. 

What we have in place today is an email application that has been put together so I or a member of my department can send an email alert to everyone here in one shot. Absolutely I agree that is what’s needed: the ability to send one message one time and reach everyone. So right now we have a temporary solution and we’re working on a permanent one.

Dr. Perman: We try to keep these to one hour so we need to wrap this up. I thank Chief Williams and all of you for your questions and concerns, which we will address. Let me just say something that leads back to my comments at the outset related to the Westside. I am very comforted, as I know all of you are, about the fact we have a safe campus with very professional policing. As the chief said, these numbers are good, but it would be best if there were nothing but zeros up there. At the same time, I will not be comfortable until we’ve done some of the things in the community around us so we’re not simply a safe island. I don’t want this to be a 7 to 5 place or even a weekday place on campus where we’re reasonably comfortable that we’re safe. I think we will have succeeded when we do things as a University that make the communities around us better and more comfortable for us all to enjoy. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and I certainly appreciate everyone’s support. 

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