Buffalo State gathers to discuss safety issues at town hall meeting


Dave DeLuca/The Record

A Buffalo State University Police car patrols around the Student Apartment Complex. Sunday’s town hall meeting discussed safety measures the campus could take.

By Lloyd Huff Jr., Staff Writer

The town hall meeting to address campus safety took place at 7 p.m. in Rockwell Hall on Sunday, Oct. 4. President Katherine Conway-Turner called for the meeting to address concerns and hear suggestions from the SUNY Buffalo State community on how to improve campus security in light of the recent string of crimes.

President Conway-Turner, University Police Department Chief Peter Carey, United Student Government President Derek Jordan, Vice President of Finance and Management Michael Levine, and Vice President of Student Affairs Hal Payne spent over an hour fielding questions from students, faculty and concerned citizens alike.

Conway-Turner, Chief Carey and Payne, all stressed that campus safety is a community responsibility, but that the burden should not fall on students, and that students should not put themselves in harm’s way.

“Safety is everyone’s business,” Conway-Turner said. “We need to see Buffalo State as our home. And as your home you’re always engaged in a level of vigilance to make sure that you know who is in your home, that you know who you’re letting in, that you know who you’re talking to and that you’re reporting things that you see that may seem suspicious to you.”

According to Carey, based on surveillance footage, UPD believes that the armed robbery suspects, who were not students, gained access to Tower 3 on Sept. 13 by following a group of students into the building.

While several students stressed that they would like to see more of a UPD presence in the residence halls, others expressed concern over being able to safely get to and from class, particularly at night.

“Once I’m inside I feel like I’m okay,” Buffalo State sophomore Daphnee Napolean said. “I feel like I need them more outside when it’s dark because it’s an open campus.”

Many of the students in attendance made suggestions for campus security improvements including better lighting, more cameras, and more campus police officers.

According to Carey, the placement of additional cameras and lighting is an ongoing project, but no definite timetables have been set due to the fact that those improvements require significant alteration to existing structures and utilities. He also pointed out that all resident hall entrances are equipped with surveillance cameras.

Right now, there are no plans to hire additional police officers or to employ private security.

In a follow-up interview, Carey said, “Even if I could hire more officers right now, it would be at least a year before they could hit the street because of the way Erie County goes about hiring and training officers.”

Right now UPD feels that residence hall security is best handled through the current method of using student Resident Assistants and Public Safety Assistants in collaboration with the UPD. However, UPD is looking into how to better utilize its current 25 patrol officers to provide increased presence and visibility.

In a follow-up interview, Levine reaffirmed that administration is looking at how they can reprioritize officer duties in greater detail.

“What we’re looking at are the things that our officers do that could be done by someone else, allowing officers to be more present on campus and deal with more real policing issues,” LeVine said. “One of the things is that police are responsible for unlocking and locking all of the buildings and it happens at a time when students are getting out of classes. So we want to find an alternative so that during those crucial times patrol officers can be more visible.”

Another solution in the works, according to Carey, is that the campus escort service shuttles will hopefully be outfitted with GPS within the next 30 days so that students will be able to know the shuttle location through a phone application.

One suggestion that students can take advantage of now came from USG Executive Vice President Emily Leminger. She suggested that Buffalo State partner with SafeTrek which partners with universities to provide their SafeTrek application in bulk. When activated the application notifies local police when a user releases their phone and does not enter their four digit pin. While President Conway-Turner did seem to express some interest in the application it is unclear at this time if the college will pursue a formal partnership. SafeTrek is available on an individual basis to students at the cost of 3 dollars per month.

Two things were made very clear at the town hall meeting. One was that the string of major crimes this semester – two sexual assaults, two armed robberies, and one slashing – has caused students, staff and faculty alike to be concerned for their safety. And judging by the presence of News 4 WIVB-TV, that concern has spread to the city of Buffalo as well.

The other is that at least the students in attendance did not feel that administration solutions were sufficient. The common feeling amongst students was that they wanted a preventative police force and not a reactionary one.

A student who was only identified as Tanya made the following statement towards the end of the meeting:

She said, “I just want to respond to some of the suggestions that you guys (administration) have made. Excuse my forwardness, but some of these suggestions aren’t realistic. If you guys don’t know, 80 percent of sexual assault victims know their offenders. So it’s difficult to know if someone is suspicious. I think, for us, security is a burden. I’m a transfer student, I’m a senior and I have a night-class. Every time I walk back from my night class, of course I’m scared. And the time I spend waiting for an escort van is enough time for someone to come and assault me. And that may seem extreme but it isn’t just me facing these trials and tribulations.”

“It isn’t realistic to expect students being pursued by someone to run in the path of a blue light if it’s not the nearest thing…and if you do make it into your building there isn’t always an RA to assist you… And yes there are a lot of cameras in the newer buildings but most of the students don’t live in newer buildings. And yes surveillance is great, and more would be great, but a camera isn’t going to save a life or stop someone from being robbed or being sexually assaulted, so while these solutions may sound ideal, I don’t feel like they work in real life situations.”

Her statement was met with a strong applause from the audience and the only response came from USG President Derek Jorden who thanked Tanya, explained his affinity for the use of cameras and acknowledged that, “That was real.”

Tanya didn’t offer solutions of her own, but the overwhelming audience response exemplified the disparity of viewpoints between the administration on stage and the students in Rockwell Hall. Based on their responses administration seems satisfied that they are taking the appropriate steps, that the police force is adequately staffed, and that safety is a shared responsibility that students can effect. However, student questions and concerns demonstrated over and over again that they are looking to UPD to make them feel safe by expanding their presence and becoming a preventative force and not just a reactionary one.

An additional town hall meeting was suggested to take place during Bengal Pause so that more of the campus community could be involved, but a date has not been set. In the meantime, anyone with suggestions or concerns can email them to [email protected].

All suggestions emailed and shared at the town hall meeting will be shared with members of the President’s Cabinet, University Police, the college’s Campus Safety Forum, and the Community Policing Advisory Committee.

For available campus security services go to http://police.buffalostate.edu/campussafety.

email: [email protected]