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Where are we safe?

Duke students are well aware of the crime that occurs on and around campus. Despite the illusion of the Duke bubble, students travel outside campus all the time, whether it’s to head back to their off-campus apartments or just to grab a bite to eat at Chipotle. We know that we live in a city and that we are constantly surrounded by the associated dangers that come with the territory.

To that end, most of us have enough common sense to follow the basic rules of campus safety. We know to lock our doors and keep an eye on our laptops in the library. We generally stay away from walking alone on the fringes of campus after dark and try to use the Duke Vans service (formerly known as SafeRides) when possible.

As students around campus all the time, we also know exactly where there are gaps in security and, just as importantly, gaps in responsibility for students’ safety. But, as students with busy schedules, we can’t always control when we have to travel around campus and off campus around the clock.

For example, Duke Vans run from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., but would a student living on Central Campus who needs to ePrint their homework at midnight call a Duke Van to drive a street over to the closest ePrint station? Probably not, but then who is responsible if that student runs into trouble on the way over?

What about the student who lives just off campus and must walk to Science Drive at odd hours to check on his lab work? Because Duke Vans only provides service from campus to certain off-campus locations, not the other way around, that option isn’t even available.

And, as it turns out, you can get mugged in the daytime too. The female student who was robbed on LaSalle Street last week was out walking at 9:25 a.m. Is it the Duke or Durham Police Department that is responsible for improving patrols in that area?

You could argue that students living off campus should be aware of these dangers and arrange for other means of transportation. But, many students choose to live off campus because rent is significantly lower. More relevantly, with Duke’s housing limitations, we simply don’t have room for all students on campus.

Given the situation, the responsibility falls on Duke to ensure safety for students who live just off campus because such areas are essentially an extension of the Duke campus.

In the federally mandated annual Clery Security Report that Duke releases, crimes committed on “all public property, including thoroughfares, streets, sidewalks and parking facilities, that is within the campus, or immediately adjacent to and accessible from the campus” are included in the statistics offered. This suggests that crimes committed in the LaSalle area are covered in the report.

When Duke Police patrols, campus “help phones” and Duke Vans fail students, what’s next? If the solution is to ask the Durham Police Department to step up patrols, it is neither responsible nor sufficient.

When I met last month with Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki to discuss the Campus Council house model proposal, we spoke briefly about improving safety on Central.

“If you look at the statistics,” he said, “Central Campus is not actually an unsafe place.” He commented, however, that the administration had discussed adding security cameras to Central to make students feel safer.

From last week’s string of robberies and in looking at past crime data, it is true that crime is not isolated on Central and is probably not significantly more prevalent there either. If the idea of security cameras is being considered for Central, however, then why not consider them for the rest of campus?

In 2005, Johns Hopkins began using a “smart” closed-circuit TV system that alerts operators in their Communications Center when suspicious activity is taking place on their 140-acre Homewood campus. Such cameras are programmed to look for strange activity such as slow-moving vehicles, odd patterns of movement, abandoned objects, etc. Partly because of this system and despite its location within the city of Baltimore, Hopkins was ranked number one in 2008 by Reader’s Digest in its campus safety and security survey and 20th for low crime in a simultaneous study. Duke did not participate in the campus safety survey, but the University was placed 244th out of 285 schools in Reader’s Digest’s low crime ranking.

Since Duke’s campus is much larger than Hopkins’ Homewood campus, security cameras would be significantly more expensive. But, if placed in strategic locations where students are likely to be walking alone, it could cut down on robberies near Campus Drive, Erwin Road, the area behind the Marketplace, etc.

If not security cameras, perhaps it’s time Duke considers other innovative solutions for filling in the security gaps because it is unequivocally responsible for all aspects of student safety, on or off campus.

For motivation, just take a look at our Reader’s Digest ranking and imagine that was our men’s basketball ranking for the season. Coach K would probably have a fit. Maybe the Duke Police Department should, too.

Doris Jwo is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Monday.


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