Since the start of this Fall Semester, there have been several of attempted robbery, sexual assault and pickpocketing around Grounds, most of which have occurred during evening hours. These numerous safety threats have caused students to fear walking home at night, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the University’s commitment to student safety. While the University has implemented many measures to improve campus security in recent years, the fact that serious crimes are still regularly being perpetrated against students clearly indicates that the administration needs to do more to improve the safety of Grounds.
The University has many , including Blue Light Phones, a community safety , lighted pathways and , “an on-demand shuttle service that provides students a safe alternative to walking home alone after has ended for the evening.” Perhaps most importantly, however, the U.Va. Ambassador Program was in February 2015 as a means of promoting campus security on Grounds. Ambassadors regularly 14th Street NW, Jefferson Park Avenue and parts of the Corner on weekdays and weekends, wearing bright yellow uniforms and driving in specially marked vehicles so that they can be easily identified by students and community members. Although the presence of U.Va. Ambassadors on the Corner undoubtedly improves student perceptions of campus security on Grounds, the problems lies in the fact that these individuals lack the necessary law enforcement power to directly intervene in cases of emergency.
The U.Va. Ambassador program’s services “walking, bicycle and vehicle patrols,” “[alerting] police to hazards, medical emergencies or other possible criminal activity,” and other functions to monitor and deter crime. While these services are certainly helpful in promoting campus security, the program’s website explicitly states that “the Ambassadors do not have law enforcement power and are not a replacement for 911.”
When an ambassador witnesses a crime take place, lack of law enforcement power restricts them from directly intervening when students are in danger, meaning perpetrators could quickly commit a crime and escape before police could arrive to the scene. One potential solution would be for the University to expand its police presence off-Grounds. There are multiple communities at the University, however, who feel unsafe in the presence of police. In light of these concerns, increased police presence is only one possible solution, and there are several others that may improve safety to a greater degree.
There is a much higher concentration of ambassadors and police officers on the Corner during weekends than there is on weeknights. Although there is obviously a much higher proportion of the student body on the Corner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, that does not negate the fact that students are exposed to dangerous threats on their walk home from the library on a Monday night. For example, a female student was recently on the corner of 14th Street NW and Grady Avenue on Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 9:33 p.m.
There are several other measures that the University should take as a means of promoting safety in student-housing areas. Although off-Grounds areas are not directly affiliated with the University, the administration should lobby the City of Charlottesville to improve street lighting down 14th Street and on side streets such as Virginia Avenue, Grady Avenue and John Street due to the high concentration of students who live in those areas. Because many areas of the Corner are so poorly lit, students become more vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault and other forms of attack. By implementing some of these measures, perhaps similar incidents could be avoided.
The safety of students should be the University’s utmost priority. Considering such a high proportion of the student body lives off-Grounds, the administration should do whatever it takes to ensure that incidents of sexual assault and robbery are avoided at all costs. By providing more effective safety measures, students will be able to more easily access emergency resources that are crucial to their security.