A recent string of laptop thefts—in two cases laptops were stolen right out of students’ hands—in buildings across campus have left students questioning their safety on campus, as reported Oct. 17 by The Chronicle.
The robbery victims suggested increasing the number of I.D. checkpoints on campus to prevent future crime, as reported in the article.
Other city schools have implemented strict I.D. policies in their downtown campuses. Columbia’s neighboring institution, The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, requires I.D. checks for everyone including guests entering campus buildings, according to SAIC’s campus security section of its website.
Columbia, however, is an open campus with resources available to the general public, like its galleries and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. The benefits of an open campus are intrinsic to Columbia but cannot be justified if students are not safe.
Students should be expected to take basic safety precautions, like being aware of surroundings and not leaving their possessions unattended, but they should expect to be safe while on campus. Security must be improved to meet those expectations.
Increasing I.D. checkpoints, however, may be unwise. The Office of Campus Safety & Security has already stated that checkpoints for inspecting I.D.s are not feasible in every Columbia building, as reported Oct. 17.
ID scanners are an alternative to manual I.D. checks by security officers. The Chicago Transit Authority uses scanners to track passengers as they enter train stations, but that would require a sizable investment of time and money the college likely cannot make right now.
While these issues are sorted out, the Office of Campus Safety & Security must find an immediate way to improve security by hiring skilled officers who are motivated by competitive salaries to do their jobs well. Officers are needed to patrol buildings as well as make their presence known in lobbies or the first floor of buildings. A conspicuous security force can not only deter crime but improve access to help in emergency situations.
Currently, there are “emergency telephones in multiple locations across campus,” according to the Campus Safety & Security section of Columbia’s website. In the Oct. 17 article, Associate Vice President of Safety & Security Ron Sodini suggested that students save the on-campus emergency number in their phones.
While this is good advice, many students will not follow it. The college needs to take responsibility and expand the emergency phone and alert systems on campus, instead of putting the burden of safety on students.
Finally, if campus security is going to implement these changes or any others, it must improve how it communicates with students as security measures are useless if students do not know about them.