Q&A Archives

Safety Matters Town Halls, October 2014

October 14, 2014

In the wake of two robberies on the UMB campus the night of Oct. 6, Dr. Perman and the UMB Police Force held safety town halls on Oct. 14 at the School of Pharmacy and on the evening of Oct. 21 at Westminster Hall. Excerpts of the presentations and questions and answers follow. Video and additional information are on the police website and a police escort story also is available. 

Dr. Perman: This is not one of my regular Q&A town halls or brown bags because we have a challenge to discuss. Today we want to devote the hour we have together to safety at UMB. Look, I know the people in this room and I know you care deeply about our University family and our neighbors. And I’m truly grateful for your investment to the well-being of our community.

Without doubt, public safety has been top of mind lately. And rightly so because we have had some very troubling events. Largely evening and night, on and near campus, violence has been perpetrated against members of our community. It’s been upsetting. It’s been unsettling. I need to say something to you, I need to look straight into your face and tell you that among all the things we do here there is absolutely nothing more important to me and to the leadership of the University than the safety of our students, our staff, our faculty, our partners, our friends, our neighbors because, after all, if there’s not safety then all our good works are far more difficult to accomplish. 

So we’re committed to doing whatever is necessary, whatever we are capable of doing, to ensure safety to the degree possible and in doing so being transparent in the process. With us today is Tony Williams, chief of the UMB Police Force and assistant vice president for public safety in my administration. Many of you know Chief Williams because he is exceedingly accessible. And you’ve come to rely on, as I have, his extraordinary expertise and leadership. I know you’re working hard as are your people, Tony, and on everyone’s behalf I thank you. 

Chief Williams is going to discuss a few of the recent incidents that have occurred on campus and some specific strategies that our UMB police are undertaking to improve safety. Some of these strategies clearly involve collaborations with our partners in the Baltimore Police Department. Sitting before you today are three members of the department’s leadership: Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt, Area 1 commander Maj. William Marcus, and Capt. Mark Howe. This was not just for today. I need to tell you that I work with these fine individuals through my co-chairmanship of the UniverCity Partnership, the task force I co-chair with the mayor, and through the Downtown Partnership, which I chair. I’m grateful to them for all the work that we’ve been able to do together. 

The Baltimore police and the UMB police have long enjoyed a very close and productive relationship. By tightening these collaborations even more we hope to significantly reduce crime and restore the community’s peace of mind. This morning’s presentations are going to be brief so we’re sure to get in as many questions and comments of yours — and ideas I hope — as possible. Chief Williams. 

Chief Williams: Good morning, everyone. We are going to talk about three basic things. We’re going to talk about where we are today crime-wise, we’re going to present a brief overview of where we are statistically, and then we’re going to discuss what we’re going to do about it. 

Before I get into it, I’d certainly like to introduce my own leadership team that is here today. Without these men and woman I would not be standing here today. So I’d like to introduce my assistant chief Col. Milland Reed, Lt. Virginia Chapko, and Lt. John Scott. 

Here’s where we are crime-wise from January through October of this year. You’ll notice that 2011 to 2014 up through October, no murders, no rapes. We had an increase in robberies. We’ve had nine robberies on the campus. In the grand scheme of things we might say nine may not be that many but on the other hand it’s nine too many for us. We’re certainly going to talk about the two most recent events that prompted us to be here today. But you can notice as well that we have had an increase in assaults, particularly aggravated types of assault. Minor assaults are down a little and our biggest decrease this year has been in theft crime. Overall crime is down 32 percent, but we recognize if you are afraid, we still have work to do. 

Feel safe. Police escorts are available 24/7 within the campus area.

Certainly we recognize that one week ago our campus community was hit very hard. Shaken, rocked if you will, hearing about these two robberies. That is a very rare occurrence for us. I can tell you I’ve been here almost five years and never do I recall experiencing two robberies on the same day or evening on our campus. I thank you all for coming out today because your appearance recognizes that not only are you concerned but you are going to be a part of the solution.

So what are we doing about it? We put a new patrol strategy in place that includes both our sworn police officers and our non-sworn security. We’ve also improved our walking and riding van police escort program and we’ve made some modifications to our crime alert process. Our security personnel have really been outstanding. They stepped up to the plate. You should have noticed they are standing out on some of our heavily trafficked areas in the evening, they stay at their post, they don’t complain, they are there for many hours looking out for us as a measure to keep us safe. So I want to acknowledge them today and say keep up the good work. 

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We are experiencing some increases in crime during evening hours. To deal with that, we have more police on the corners from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Now, what you’ll see is some increased walking around by the police officers. They will be highly visible. They’re wearing reflective vests, they also have amber yellow flashing lights on the top of the police cars. Methods like this will help you see them from a greater distance and we want even the criminals to know we’re out. 

As you know we also do what we call corner assignments at UMB. Every day, twice a day, police officers are out in our major intersections helping direct traffic, helping people cross the street. But they’re also visible. We’ve increased those hours so you can see those officers out early. Also there are supervisors on duty during those peak times. All of us work in some kind of organization and we know that someone has to keep people accountable. So we’ve tasked our supervisors, both our sworn officers and our non-sworn security, to do that for us, which is going to help us. Part of your job, quite frankly, is to help make sure I’m doing, we’re doing, what we’re supposed to be doing. So you’ll see supervisors there on duty as well in the evenings and on weekends.

Also as mentioned before, our Baltimore Police Department partners are here. They are going to talk very briefly about what they’re doing to help us out. There are some things that have been in place that you wouldn’t see necessarily that have been going on for a while now. For example, our officers attend role call with each other, we go to information and intelligence sharing meetings to keep informed on a regular basis. We also work some initiatives together, such as Lexington Market. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt and Maj. William Marcus. 

Lt. Col. Hyatt: I’d like to begin by thanking Dr. Perman and the University for giving us the opportunity to come and speak. And to reiterate the chief’s words, we have had a fantastic working relationship with UMB for many years and we look forward to continuing that. I also want to introduce Capt. Mark Howe and Lt. Mark Walrath, who is our investigative supervisor for the Central District, which this campus falls within. While it’s a privilege to speak in front of you today of course we are disturbed that it is due to safety concerns that you have in our patrol area. We take pride in the crime reductions we have seen in the downtown and Westside this year. 

Violent crime in the downtown area has been reduced 14 percent in the year to date. Property crime has been reduced 22 percent and our most noticeable decreases are a 16 percent reduction in street robberies and a 19 percent reduction in larceny/auto. But of course we’re not here today to celebrate crime reduction.

Knowing that we had less incidents of violent crime this year — 33 less and 195 less incidents of property crime — although it’s impressive, it simply isn’t enough. If you have been the victim of a violent crime or a property crime, you know every single case impacts people. Certainly the University and those in this room have been impacted very directly over the last few weeks by incidents of violent crime. We are outraged with you that these acts would occur. We pledge to continue to work in conjunction with UMB to put forth the best efforts we can in the downtown and Westside area. 

We know the times of day that concern you the most. Certainly it’s in the morning when you travel in to work, at lunchtime, and in the evening when you are leaving to go home. We are listening and consequently we are adjusting Baltimore City’s deployment to provide more concentrated attention at these critical times. You will see improved policing efforts moving forward. We will continue to work together with our UMB partners in matters that will be seen and unseen by the public. We will continue to work with our other law enforcement partners who were previously mentioned along with other public and private partners who assist us every day. As I turn this over to Maj. Marcus I leave you with the most personal piece, which I speak on behalf of everyone from the Baltimore Police Department who is here today. Each time someone tells us they don’t feel safe in the downtown area or on the Westside, it concerns us. It angers us because this is our patrol area. And we take it very personally. I commit to you that we will continue to work even harder to make this area the safest it has ever been. We are committed to this relentless effort and we certainly welcome your feedback along the way.

Maj. Marcus: Good morning, everyone. My name is Maj. William Marcus. I’m responsible for the Central District. So you know, Col. Hyatt is my immediate boss and is responsible for at least one other district that contains a lot of ingress and egress in the Southern District. I know some of you live in Ridgely’s Delight and she is responsible for that full area. My little piece is the Central District. I was very curious as to how we stand up against prior years so I compared 2014 to 2011 and there was a 16 percent decrease in violent crime. I’m talking about crime specific to this area, not the entire downtown area. 2014 to 2012, a 19.6 decrease in violent crime. 2014 to 2013, a 26.8 decrease in violent crime. So you can see we are trending in the right direction. But as Col. Hyatt said, if you are that victim of violent crime, these stats don’t mean anything. 

To that end, Chief Williams, Col. Hyatt, myself, and Capt. Howe have jointly agreed to a five-point deployment plan with the University of Maryland, Baltimore. In addition to those five points, which I believe the chief spoke of earlier, we are also doing several things unilaterally, which will shore up the safety on the perimeter of the campus during the lunchtime period, coming to work, going home from work. 

In addition to that, the Southern District and the Western District will also be taking up the same postures as the Central District. They will be deploying more resources on the routes of ingress and egress across Martin Luther King Boulevard in the Western District. Same way Southern District will hold that down in Ridgely’s Delight. 

Lastly, let me just say, and Chief Williams touched on this as well, we need your help. If you see something out there that just doesn’t look right to you, we need you to contact either the University of Maryland or the Baltimore Police Department Central District because when you contact us that adds an element of reasonable suspicion and enhances our ability to approach that person. Your call might be the critical piece that was missing.

In terms of going forward from here, I think that even though we have shown a 20 percent decrease in crime and the University of Maryland also has shown a decrease in crime, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Believe me I took this job and I work this job with a chip on my shoulder. Chief Williams is the same way. We live and breathe law enforcement, particularly as it pertains to downtown Baltimore and in this case the University of Maryland. So please help us help you by taking the steps we talked about.

Stay alert. Emergency blue light phones are available on campus if needed. 

Chief Williams: I just want to talk a little more specifically about what we’re going to do. We have security officers who will be out on patrol. You’ll see them out in those high-traffic areas from 5 to 10 every evening. Greene Street, Baltimore and Greene, the Pratt Street corridor. Again, high visibility. They’ll have the reflective vests on. And you might see some security on Segways if the weather permits and they are available. Everything is about you seeing the police and knowing they are there. You told us in a survey a few years ago that you all feel better when you see us. 

The police escort program is working to make some strides to improve, both walking and riding escorts. Let me just say something very quickly. I hear what you say. For example, when you say “Hey the Chief’s out front saying utilize our escort program, it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we’ll walk with you, we’ll give you a ride and then sometimes some of our people come and they make you feel like they really don’t want to do it.” I see a few heads nodding. Believe me, I’m observant and I listen. Here’s the deal. We’re addressing that. Because above all else, we have to be a good customer service agency for you all.   

First and foremost we’ve assigned a couple of great customer-service type police to do the van service from now on. Actually we already put that into place. But you’ll see the van service hours extended. We didn’t use to start the van service until 5 or 6 p.m.; we’ve kicked that back to 3 p.m. You’ll have van service up until 1 a.m. 

We’ve also added an additional van so that from the hours of 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. there will be two vans out there for you. It is our department’s goal that if anybody doesn’t feel comfortable walking this campus when it’s dark, get a ride. We’re going to eliminate every excuse for people to be walking around at night in areas they’re not comfortable in. So I urge you please utilize the van service. We have great people. I used to tell Dr. Perman and Pete Gilbert,  ‘Hey I can make them drive the van but I can’t make them smile.’ Now we have some people who like to smile and they’ll probably talk your ear off while they’re doing it. We also have someone assigned who will be receiving your call and coordinating the requests for the van service. So when you call for that van service you get a good, courteous person on the other end of that phone who will give you an ETA and really try to coordinate those services as best we can.   

Don't wear your earbuds. Be aware of your surroundings.

Also, we’ve listened to you again. We’ve extended our boundaries for the riding escort. What you see are two outlined areas. Outlined in black is the campus boundary. What you see around it in red are the areas the van service will now take you to. Roughly speaking we will take you maybe three blocks north, south, east, and west of the campus boundaries so we want to cut down on those occasions where people have to walk far to get home with the van service in areas they’re not comfortable in. This has already been implemented. It is available tonight. Please use it.

We are also going to do some customer service feedback. So if you get a call from me or one of our people asking how was your ride, please be honest and let us know. 

If you need a ride from one building to another, if you need a ride from your building to the parking garage that’s what the van service is for. We still have the walking escort service available to you on campus as well. You can get that any time of the day. We’ve appointed people to specifically walk with you so when you make that call, there will be people waiting to walk with you.

Also we’ve had some problems with our alerts process. When we send out alerts, at times some of you have given us very negative feedback about it. Everything from having the wrong date in the message to using police jargon, such as No. 1 male. We recognize you need good timely information that is accurate but it also has to flow and read a certain way commensurate with the quality of this University. So toward that end, the Office of Communications and Public Affairs will be helping us by taking on that responsibility to get those messages out. We have a protocol in place where in the end you can expect to receive timely messages that will be clear for you.

And with that, Dr. Perman, I think we’d like to take some questions.

Dr. Perman: I’m going to take the prerogative of raising one issue if I may since the professionals are here: cell phones. I know many of you tolerated me several years ago in 2012 when we noted that eight of the nine robberies that occurred on campus the target was the cell phone. Look, you’re all adults. Certainly our students remind me of that all the time. But you know I usually stand in front of the students and I say what would you think of me if I walked around like this [holding his wallet in his hand]. Now, there’s not a lot of money in here but you wouldn’t think much of me. It’s the same thing with a cell phone in my hand.  

I would be the first as a layperson to say I can’t make anybody stop using their cell phone. But I can tell you that we’re going to encourage it. We’ve got some cards that people like me walk around with that say ‘don’t walk and talk or text.’ So far, people have received the message well. Any comments from the professionals here?

Chief Williams: Dr. Perman is right on point. One of the real simple things we all can do to help decrease our opportunities of victimization is simply not to pull out that cell phone. Not to be distracted as you talk or text while you walk around this campus. That’s become a fact. If you can simply wait until you get into your building to make that call or to send that text message, you dramatically decrease the probability of you being victimized. Do you have something, Lieutenant? 

Lt. Mark Walrath: The cell phone issue is not indigenous to Baltimore; this is a national trend. Every city in America is experiencing this. The phrase that is used by individuals in this type of robbery is Apple-picking because it started with the Apple iPhone. They are absolutely correct. You are standing there on your phone, you’re listening to your music, you’re texting, you’re not paying attention. Criminals can have the phone out of your hand and be gone in literally a split second and you don’t realize what happened except someone just took your phone. You’re not going to chase them down and get it back. They know the neighborhood and they know where they’re going. 

They’re committing these crimes in various ways. One is just that: snatch and grab. Another way is they ask to borrow your phone. You hand them the phone, you’re not going to get it back. You try to confront them to get it back and then an assault takes place. The third way they’ll get it is they’ll come up in a group of two or three, maybe as many as five, and they’ll kind of surround you and say, hey, I want your phone. And what are you going to do? There’s five of them. You’re going to give them your phone. And then lastly is the straight up robbery where they walk up and punch you in the side of the head and take your phone.

The key thing is to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk around texting, don’t look down at your phone and not know what is happening around you. Your head needs to be up, you need to know who is beside you and in back of you, you need to have your route of travel already planned out, and you need to have an alternate route so if this path doesn’t look comfortable to you for some reason you can make a right and go around the block. The big thing also is the earbuds in the ears. The criminals target their victims. If the phone is in your pocket they don’t know whether you have a phone and they’re not likely to come up and ask. But if they see you listening to your earbuds while you’re walking, they know you have a phone on you. 

Dr. Perman: OK, the floor is open, please. 

Q: Some of us work on the weekends. Are any of these services available on weekends and what are the times?

Be prepared. Plan your route ahead of time.

Chief Williams: These services will be available on weekends. The police, quite frankly, we work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have escort and van services available also on the weekends. If you dial 6-6882 from any phone on campus or from a non-campus phone 410-706-6882, we’ll be happy to provide a police escort. 

Q: I appreciate you coming here today, Chief. My concern is with the data. The way you’re talking about the data and I’ve heard about a percent decrease in crime several times and the table you showed is supportive of that. What I’m looking at is in the Clery Act, I’m seeing that over three years robberies and aggravated assault are increasing. I’m looking at the University of Baltimore and we have twice as many robberies and 10 times as many aggravated assaults. Johns Hopkins’ medical campus also is lower. So if you’re going to make statements about a percentage of decrease in crime, please give us more data to look at so it supports your assertion and so I know what’s in the Clery Act isn’t the whole picture. 

Chief Williams: We actually are making progress in making sure you are fully informed. We want to be transparent. When I talk about crime I talk specifically about this year to date compared to the same period last year. The Clery Act comes out Oct. 1 of every year. It always has three years of crime in it, but it’s also a year behind the current year. So the report that came out on Oct. 1 of 2014 actually has crime from 2013, 2012, and 2011. Also we noted in that report that the data in that report are not just the UMB police stats but also the same statistics from the Baltimore Police Department. We can’t talk about what occurs on other campuses, but what we do is make sure we report our crime accurately and timely. The other thing that we’ve done is we’ve implemented an electronic 60-day crime log that’s on our police website. You go there and you see 60 days of current activity anytime you like. The Clery Act doesn’t require that we report certain types of crime. So you don’t see thefts for example in the Clery report. We don’t hide that data, we share it, we share all the crime as we did today. The city of Baltimore also has crime data on its website. The major mentioned we sit primarily on 121 Post in the Central District. You can go to the city website and literally punch up 121 Post for the Central District and see all the crime you want. 

Q: I have two questions. One related to the walking around and texting and using cell phones. I was wondering through the University or police or both is there some type of program or initiative to give that message on a more consistent basis? I’ve seen the fliers and they should be more specific. It seems to me a lot of things we do day to day without thinking so more reminders would help. 

My second question is has there been any look at or concern if there is a stigma attached to actually asking for an escort especially maybe toward the males on campus? Thinking well, that’s not the manly thing to do. It’s dark but I can’t be scared. Maybe some outreach that it’s OK to ask for help or to get that ride when that might be the difference between you being assaulted or being safe. 

Dr. Perman: Very thoughtful questions.

Lock it or lose it. Never leave your valuables unattended or unsecured.

Chief Williams: For the first question, we certainly recognize we can help by getting that information out more regularly. We used to put safety tips on all kinds of materials, usually seasonal pieces. In a seasonal message coming out the end of this month we’ll give tips on how to shop and move around safely during the holiday season. 

In terms of the police escort program, it is definitely open to everyone, male and female. We also open it up not just for the University, but to our partners at the University of Maryland Medical Center. So please help pass this message on, there is no stigma attached to anyone utilizing our escort program. In fact, I am personally asking you to use it. There is no need for anybody to be walking around at night at all now so we’re really pushing this. In fact, if we see people walking around at night we ask them if they’ve considered utilizing our van service. 

Q: I have a couple of comments and suggestions. The first one has to do with the corner assignments. You say they are going to be until 6 o’clock. I know it requires extra staffing but you might want to think about extending it until 7 because a lot of people do work until after 6 and many students are here then. The other thing is what are we doing to alert these individuals who are coming in to commit crimes on campus that this campus is safe and there are increased patrols? Maybe there is signage that we could put on the perimeter of the campus to alert criminals that hey, we do have cameras, we do have police here, and this is a crime-free zone. 

Chief Williams: Much of what you mentioned we are doing. Our job quite frankly right now is we want to do more aggressive policing. We want the criminals to get the message that it’s not comfortable for them here. We can put signs up, but what really gets it done is the criminals have to see it. Those of us on the police force, we’re a small group of people, we have an awesome responsibility, and we take pride in our jobs. But the reality is every member of the community can play a part by sending a message that we’re not going to be easy prey for criminals. Put that cell phone away. Be alert. Be aware of your surroundings. Walk in groups. They all help send that message. If you see something say something. Believe me we’ll get a strong message out to criminals – don’t go on that campus. 

Q: Have you ever considered letting the shuttle take you to the parking garages? We are on Paca Street and the majority of our employees park in Saratoga Garage. They get off 5 to 5:30 and it’s always dark. Second question: We are considered a little bit off campus because we are at Paca-Pratt, but we are UMB employees. A lot of our employees also park at Baltimore Grand. We hardly ever see police when we’re walking on Lombard and Pratt streets. There is generally a person who directs traffic. I think it would make more sense to have security people direct the traffic and have the police officers standing on the corner being more visible. We also staff a clinic on Eutaw Street and our employees get out of there late at night. By the time they see their last patients and finish their notes, they have to come back to our building and they’re cutting through places to make it the shortest trip they can. It definitely isn’t safe and we’ve had a lot of employees come to us about that they don’t feel safe. 

Chief Williams: The location that you mention on Eutaw Street is outside our jurisdiction. We can’t patrol on Eutaw Street. But for the Paca-Pratt location as a University employee our escort services, both walking and riding, are available to you. Please call us and ask to do that. You have to be trained to direct traffic and have authority to do that.  So our security guards are not in a position to direct traffic. I’d like Lt. Scott to talk with you after this meeting so we can talk more specifically about how can we provide support to you and your building. 

At the Oct. 21 town hall, several students had questions regarding the UM shuttle. Excerpts follow. 

Q: Is there a partnership between the UMB Police Force and those responsible for the UM shuttle? I am at the library late and am waiting for the shuttle and it’s been at least 20 minutes late regularly. So I consider walking, which I know is dangerous that time of night. I was wondering if anything can be done so that if the shuttle is running late it’s updated on the mobile app? Or put something in play where they are more timely, especially late night hours. During the day we can walk with our friends, but not at 10 or 11 at night. Sometimes I’m standing at Baltimore and Paca for 30 minutes and I can walk home in 15 minutes. 

Chief Williams: Public Safety absolutely works in line with Parking and Transportation Services and I’ll speak with the director of transportation to see if we can do a better job of providing information that is current. It’s a good point.

Q: I’m a first-year student who lives in Mount Vernon and walks to school during the day and I’m in the same kind of situation waiting for the shuttle. There are classes that end at 9 and the shuttle comes at 9:30. We see the shuttle just sitting there and not moving while we wait outside with our cell phones in our pockets, like Dr. Perman just discussed, instead of waiting inside where it is safe and taking a chance on missing the shuttle when it does move. It would be nice if the shuttle schedule would coincide with our classes, especially at night.

Chief Williams: I will pass along your comments and in fact please stop up afterward and I will take your name and contact you directly.

Q: I take two night classes and I think the problem with the app and the shuttle is that the app schedule is based on an estimate of when the shuttle should arrive and not the real time of when it is due.  Sometimes you’re waiting outside 45 minutes, which at night makes no sense.  I think it should just be an ongoing route where the shuttle keeps moving around and not stopping and starting. Having to wait outside at night in an area that’s not safe is not conducive to peace of mind. In that case we should pick up people at the school and not a block away. 

Chief Williams: We’re going to make sure the right people get the information. There’s also a suggestion line to improve the shuttle overall. Feel free to utilize that method as well. 

Dr. Perman: We hear what you’re saying and we need to adjust the shuttle service to serve the needs of those riding it. 

After the meeting, Chief Williams met with the three students and reminded them that calling for the police escort van is another option after night classes. 

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