WCCO to air story on residence hall security tonight

The University of St. Thomas will be one of four Minnesota and Wisconsin schools featured in a WCCO television news report on residence hall security that the station will air at 10 p.m. today (Thursday, Oct. 30).

St. Thomas officials, in response to the story, say that the campus has extensive security measures in place, and … as they have earlier this semester … cautioned resident students not to allow strangers to “tailgate” or follow them into the residence halls.

As part of a three-month WCCO I-Team undercover investigation, an I-Team member equipped with a hidden camera attempted to gain entry into Dowling and John Paul II residence halls at St. Thomas, and at residence halls at Macalester College, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin at River Falls.

The cameraman, according to the station, was able to gain access to the residence halls at the four schools in 23 of 24 attempts. The one time he was stopped at any of the campuses was at St. Thomas, when he was detained one evening by a checkpoint staff person while trying to enter John Paul II.

The cameraman told St. Thomas officials he was successful in getting into Dowling all three times he tried, and into John Paul II on two of three attempts. He typically would walk in with other students, who sometimes would hold the door for him or talk with him. He never identified himself as a WCCO employee but if questioned he would say he was there visiting a student.

On the one occasion that he was stopped in John Paul II, he said he was looking for his sister, who was visiting a friend living there but that he couldn’t remember the friend’s name. The checkpoint staff member called a St. Thomas Public Safety officer who came over and tried without success to find the student. Eventually, the cameraman was escorted from the hall.

WCCO has been promoting tonight’s story through its radio and television stations, and on its Web site.

Rachel Kittlelson, director of campus living at St. Thomas, said residence hall security measures on campus have been reviewed and compare favorably to measures on other campuses in the Twin Cities and Minnesota.

St. Thomas resident students are allowed to access all campus residence halls, with their I.D. card, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Starting at 8 p.m., residents may access their own residence hall only; if a resident student wishes to enter a different hall, she or he must check in at the hall’s night-access desk.

Resident assistants are on duty from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next morning; they typically make three to four rounds walking through the building during the evening, including one at 2 a.m. on weekend nights.

A hall “night access” for guests is scheduled for specific hours, and each guest must check in and be escorted by a resident of the building. The hours are 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays through Wednesdays; 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursdays; and 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Public Safety officers do routine checks of the residence hall common areas, including the Grand Avenue Apartments, and outside the buildings at staggered times on each shift throughout the day and night.

Campus Living and Public Safety work together to respond to situations in the residence halls, and Public Safety officers respond immediately whenever students or hall staff members request their presence.

“We are continually looking for opportunities to improve the security systems on campus,” Kittleson said, “and we encourage students to talk with us about safety and security issues on campus.

“Students supporting and using the security systems provided are critical to the safety of all students on campus. In addition, not hassling the night-access workers when they ask to see a St. Thomas I.D. is just as important as using the locks and peepholes on individual room doors,” she added.

In the wake of several assaults on campus and in the neighborhood this fall, St. Thomas students were reminded not to allow strangers into the residence halls.

“Safety is the responsibility of everyone,” she said. “We can’t just depend on locks or on our security officers. We also need to depend on each other. If we want secure residence halls, it is the responsibility of each hall resident not to let people into the halls who don’t belong there.”

Mary Ann Ryan, interim vice president for student affairs, echoed that advice. “Resident students need to be careful about strangers following them into the halls,” she said. “Students need to be assertive and say to strangers, ‘Why are you coming in here?’”

Kittleson said a benefit of the WCCO story will be to raise awareness of the importance of not letting strangers into the residence halls.

By coincidence, this is Stop Crime Week at St. Thomas. The St. Thomas Public Safety and Parking Services Department is hosting booths where you can learn how to protect yourself from being a crime victim.

Public Safety and Parking Services representatives and police off
icers from St. Paul will be on hand to answer your questions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today (Thursday, Oct. 30, in Campus Square, located in the lower level of Murray-Herrick Campus Center.

Visit the booth to learn safety tips, get answers to your questions, enjoy some refreshments and win items in a raffle.