The search for safety

by Steven Joy
Contributing Writer

As a junior, there’s always been an interest in the back of my mind in knowing what goes on at the safety forums here at Clark, never having been to one until now. This forum was called in response to a robbery at Oliver’s Corner Store and an attack on a student,

Campus police lead forum on safety in the community. Photo by Ashley Klann.

both occurring last weekend. About a dozen students and several faculty attended, including President Angel himself, whom I had the honor of sitting next to during the proceedings. The forum was run for the most part by Stephen Goulet, chief of University Police, but after he made the points he wanted to make, there was a great deal of discussion and opinions expressed by the students.

Returning to Clark this semester, there is a raised concern about campus safety amongst students in general. Some of those at the forum who had studied abroad in the spring noted dramatic change in readjusting to life back at Clark, and they were notable in expressing particular alarm at the safety issues on campus. One of these returning students pointed to discrepancies between local newspaper accounts of the aforementioned incidents compared to what we have heard in UP’s safety notices about their nature and severity.

Chief Goulet opened the forum by explaining the changes that have been made over the summer, and what UP has done for security. This year, there are greatly increased campus alerts, thanks to a “multi-tiered system,” according to Chief Goulet. First, there are Clark Alerts for a “hot situation” – in other words, serious threats such as an active shooter, hurricane, or major fire. Next, there are safety warnings, the timely warnings we receive via Clark e-mail. These deal with ongoing threats, but they come with a trade-off; students receive general information about an incident rather than the specifics we may want, but this is usually necessary in order to get the information out to us quickly. Then, there are safety notices for things that aren’t immediate threats, but information which UP deems important for us to know. Finally, safety updates will regularly be put out by UP, with one coming fairly soon, explaining to the student body at large what UP is doing to keep things safe around campus.

Chief Goulet continued with other areas which have been improved upon. There is a more effective police presence on campus – more foot patrols, walking escorts, and officers on bikes; the latter have received “mostly good” comments, according to him, and will be out until weather prevents them from doing so. Meanwhile, Goulet reports that there are close to sixty surveillance cameras on campus now, which are of great importance in UP’s ability to react to crimes, and he is interested in using them proactively to prevent crime, and not just respond to it. UP has also worked with Physical Plant to set up around twenty additional light fixtures in the neighborhood, and there is interaction with some of the engaged landlords in the neighborhood, who own dozens of properties many Clark-occupied. Goulet made it clear that the safety of off-campus students remains firmly in UP’s mind. At the same time, he concluded his briefing by bringing up the importance of personal responsibility: “meet us halfway with regards to personal safety.”

When the forum opened up to questions, one of the major points of the discussion revolved around trying to find a way to get information about incidents out to students more quickly than checking their Clark emails. Weekend nights are a time of vulnerability, and most people lack access to their Clark email accounts while out at night; even if they do have access, checking them at those times is hardly a priority for students. The feasibility of a mass text system to address this issue was discussed; it will be interesting to see whether it pans out.

One particular moment in the forum provided me with an answer to the question of what the forum actually offers to Clark students. One of the students informed Chief Goulet about a suspicious car parked in the lot outside Blackstone, which Goulet reported they would immediately look into. The forum is a valuable connection between the students and UP, and it does offer opportunities for solutions to safety issues. Chief Goulet himself seems very easy to engage, and he’s eager to hear from students about how to make them feel more comfortable with respect to their safety on and around campus. The final point I took away from the meeting was Chief Goulet’s response to a question about jurisdiction; whether someone should call Worcester police or UP. Goulet responded that, if you’re worried, you should call somebody, and if you choose to call UP, “Whether we have jurisdiction or not, we’ll make a difference.”