April 22, 2009

Police Field Safety Questions

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As the end of the year approaches, campus officials have begun a thorough review of various public safety measures in light of the University’s recent budget cuts. Representatives from the three colleges in Ithaca — Ithaca College, Tompkins County Community College and Cornell — met last night in the Africana Center for a panel discussion of the challenges facing their respective student bodies.
The discussion began with Gary Stewart of Cornell Community Relations for the Campus-Community Coalition introducing the panelists — Kathy Zoner, deputy chief for Cornell Police, Terri Stewart of the Office of Public Safety at Ithaca College and Jim Hall of the Office of Public Safety at TC3. Following a brief statement on overall safety initiatives at the three schools, the panel began fielding questions from the audience, which was comprised of University officials, community members and representatives, students and various police officers.
“There are many challenges to campus safety in today’s world,” Stewart said. “These issues are faced by all campus environments.”
Stewart cited mental health issues and the influences of alcohol and drugs as the major challenges facing public safety at universities, facts that were reiterated by Zoner and Hall.
Cornell Police maintains a staff of 54 officers, but has begun to feel the effects of the University-wide budget cuts. Due to the cuts and the early retirement incentive program, the force will be down seven officers beginning June 30.
“We have no right or capability to fill these vacancies,” Zoner said.
In addition to complying with sustainable initiative on campus, the Cornell Police plan to increase foot and bike patrols in order to “interact with the public of the community,” Zoner said. “The recent budget cuts are tough, but provide the opportunity to get out in the public and act as meeters and greeters on campus,” she added.
After each member of the panel gave an introductory talk, the floor was opened for questions. Stewart, along with members of the audience, questioned the panel on topics ranging from gorge safety to mass campus alert systems.
Zoner discussed the difficulties in Cornell policing the gorges since they are technically under the jurisdiction of the City of Ithaca Police Department. She stated adamantly the need for education both on gorge safety and alcohol consumption because these are two of the most important contributing factors to Cornell safety.
Timothy Marchell, director of health promotions for Gannett Health Services, discussed the use of drugs and prescription pills as another area in need of increased education and awareness. “Overuse of prescription drugs is difficult to detect. This is where we rely on student reporting and residence hall staff to keep Cornell students safe,” Marchell said.
Zoner then discussed the mass campus alert system, which she said is being developed slowly and carefully. Cornell Police and faculty administrators are working hard to create an effective widespread notification system for Cornell students in case of a threat.
The panel discussion closed with the topic of Slope Day and the regulation of Greek life on campus. Jason Shapiro ’10, vice president for University and Community Relations for the Interfraternity Council, discussed the recently passed resolutions limiting open parties to three a semester and regulating outdoor events.
However, many in the audience called for more regulation, possibly spreading to the fraternity annexes. “The changes that Cornell Police made to the system are not only going to increase student safety, but it will also increase sustainability and help with Cornell’s expenses in these hard economic times,” Shapiro said.
With only nine days until Slope Day, Zoner assured the audience that Cornell Police will work tirelessly with the Ithaca Police Department and student and faculty volunteers to ensure a smooth day.
In the future Zoner and Marchell hope to regulate what students do off campus before coming to the slope. “Overconsumption of alcohol in the morning before Slope Day is our biggest problem,” Zoner said.
Overall, Zoner, Marchell and the entire panel reassured the audience that although there are many challenges that college campuses face, there are many organizations that work to provide public safety to students and improve the quality of life for students.