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Security breach in DSC brings campus shortcomings to light

Submitted by Rachel Hood on April 7, 2011 – 2:31 pmOne Comment

I had an experience recently that I didn’t think would happen to me at UALR. I was editing the newspaper late one night in The Forum office (located in the Donaghey Student Center), when a ragged man walked through the door. It was clear to me this man was homeless—he was dirty and thin, and sounded a bit like Tommy Chong. It was around 9:20 p.m., nearly half and hour after the DSC had closed,  I was possibly the only other person still in the building. Needless to say, I was startled by this man’s presence (as well as by how he could find “the Batcave” of UALR).

He asked if I could help him locate the nearest restroom, and I told him to go look near the piano in the upper concourse. He was polite, but clearly out of touch, so I felt slightly unnerved. The Leadership Lounge was dark, and I had no means of self defense on me (except for my combat boots and wimpy girl fists).

About 20 minutes later, I was still working when he came through the door again. This time, he explained that he accidentally left his bag of belongings in the bathroom, and it was now gone. The man seemed clearly distressed and aggravated. He said, “I can’t go on if I’m homeless, helpless, and I have nothing.” I felt sorry for him, and tried to sympathize. I told him that the janitors must have thrown it away, and if they did, it would be in the dumpster. I told him how to get there, but this time he didn’t leave right away. He continued to vocalize his distress, and I kept saying I understood and I was sorry.

He eventually left, and this time, the darkness outside my door felt more threatening. Fortunately, he seemed to be harmless; however,  I was concerned for my safety, so I called UALR’s Department of Public Safety (DPS).

This was my first “distress” call to them, and I would just like to say they did a great job. The patrol car arrived in less than five minutes, and I kept an eye out the window to see if they apprehended the man. The car stayed there for about half an hour before the officer came outside with the homeless man. I didn’t see where he went, but it looked like the officer gave him a warning and told him to leave. I felt a little safer, but slightly worried after the officer left—not knowing if the man would find me as I walked to my car in the parking deck at 11:15 p.m.

I have been at UALR for almost three years and I have never felt my sense of safety threatened until this incident. UALR is a relatively safe university, especially for being in the center of an urban community. Also, as a student journalist I know UALR has considered many safety concerns, and done a few things to prevent crime on campus.

However, there are a few shortcomings that I would like to address that are directly connected to my situation. First, it has been mentioned several times that the central bus stop on campus is a glaring concern. While it is helpful to some commuters (we are a commuter campus after all), it also shuttles Little Rock’s homeless into the heart of our campus, as well as other shady characters one might find on the public transit. I know this man arrived by the bus, because I saw him get off it earlier in the evening. Our office faces the bus stop and is walled by large windows so that anyone can see who’s present (or not present for that matter).

The second concern is one of many students—the parking situation. While students and faculty are allowed to park closer to campus after 4 p.m., I was on a tight schedule and didn’t have time to move my car from the parking deck. The several construction projects on campus have made parking a nightmare, and there are few students who haven’t found themselves walking halfway across campus late at night. I won’t digress by discussing my problems with having to PAY for a safe parking spot, when it should be covered by what we already pay in tuition. As long as there are students on campus (or at least until midnight), there should be patrol officers actively securing the premises.

My third concern is why this man was still in the building nearly 20 minutes after it had closed. Again, the DPS response was great, but I think it would be more efficient to have an officer patrol the DSC for at least an hour after closing. He or she should make “rounds” to all areas to see if anyone is there. What would have happened if I was in my office alone, and this man burst through the door in a psychotic rampage right off the bat? He shouldn’t have been there, and no one  knew I was there, either.

This brings me to my final safety concern, which is the lack of working security cameras on campus. If DPS officers are on standby in the station, couldn’t someone be monitoring late-night activity? I doubt security cameras would put a dent in the campus budget, and they would be an economical means crime prevention. I have been told that some cameras on campus, such as the ones in the art building, are just for show and do not work. This was a problem for a friend of mine who had her purse stolen a few semesters ago while she was working in the art building one night.

I will admit that I should have had some means of self defense on me. I should have locked the door to begin with. Come to think of it, I could have offered the poor guy some Bugles from the break room. Hindsight is 20/20.  However, I feel that this school is capable of providing more safety, and we are paying royally for it, so the school has an obligation to provide higher standards.

The lesson here for all you late-night Trojans is be cautious and prepared. If you are on campus after dark, please be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to protect yourself. Walk to and from your destinations confidently and with a legal “weapon” in hand. Also, save DPS’ phone number in your mobile phone  (501-569-3400). Most importantly though, make UALR officials aware that campus safety is important to you. You never know who’s going to get off at the bus stop.

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A student has written a response to this editorial. You may view it, along with the editor’s note, here: Letter to the Editor: Response to ‘Security breach in DSC brings campus shortcomings to light.’

One Comment »

  • Mike Simons UALR 1991 says:

    It is sad to see nothing has changed since I was there. It is past time for the School to update and improve lighting and offer a shuttle to the outer parking lots at least till midnight. Campus Police must be more active on campus. This building should have been checked and secured by 8 pm.