BU Today

Campus Life

Safety 101: Tips from BUPD

Crime spikes on campuses every September and October


As the Class of 2018 arrives on campus, BU Today has put together a series of articles we call Campus Life 101. Each day this week, we are providing you with tips about some important basics: how to shop for groceries, how to do laundry, how to pick the right backpack to avoid injuries, how to avoid or reduce stress and anxiety, and how to stay safe on—and off—campus.

Commonwealth Avenue is flooded these days with new, often-distracted, students toting backpacks filled with laptops and iPhones, as they seek out unfamiliar buildings and classrooms. The Boston University Police Department (BUPD) reminds them and returning students that the first two months of a new academic year also brings a spike in crimes on university campuses—including at BU.

While property theft—usually of items left unattended, however briefly—is the most common crime reported on campus, more serious offenses occur as well. From January 2014 to August 18, 2014, according to the BUPD, 8 simple assaults, 4 rapes, 5 aggravated assaults, 3 indecent assaults, 6 burglaries, 157 larcenies (including 52 bike thefts), and 3 car breaks-ins were reported on campus. Some of those numbers could be higher; police acknowledge that offenses like rape and indecent assault tend to be underreported. Crimes that occur in adjacent student neighborhoods, like Allston-Brighton, are handled by the Boston Police Department.

The BUPD has a staff of 54 officers and detectives. Shift sizes vary depending on the day and the number of events taking place. More than 110 emergency call boxes across both the Charles River and Medical Campuses can connect callers directly to a BUPD dispatcher, and the department’s number is listed on the back of every Terrier card.

With a new academic year about to begin, BU Today spoke with Scott Paré, deputy director of public safety and BUPD deputy chief, to ask how students can best protect themselves on the street, as well as in dorms and campus buildings.

BU Today: Do college students have a false sense of security?

Paré: The crime rate is very low on this campus. With that you have this feeling of comfort, which is great, but you do end up letting your guard down. It’s a double-edged sword.

Is BU a popular target for thieves?

BU is certainly an appealing place. A university environment is, in general. The population is large, and thieves know students have laptops and other electronic devices. Unfortunately, kids leave them unattended—90 to 95 percent of theft reports we review are “unattendeds,” meaning that a student has left their laptop or iPhone at a desk in a library or classroom while they went for a break or a coffee. It’s not just students. It’s faculty and staff, too. You go down the hall for five minutes, and something’s missing from your office. Don’t leave personal property unattended, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

Students should lock their dorm rooms, even when sleeping. There’s security downstairs in larger dorms, so upstairs, students sometimes leave their doors open. We’ve had kids walk into a room when people are sleeping, sometimes by accident, sometimes not. We get two or three cases a semester of people being in a room when they don’t belong there. Larceny is the highest crime on campus, on all campuses.

Bike thefts are an ongoing problem on college campuses. What can students do to protect their bikes?

The safest place to store a bike is in one of the BU bike cages. Bicyclists should always secure their bikes, wherever they are, with a U lock and make sure they lock it in a safe manner. Avoid locking your bike to decorative fencing, parking meters, or trees. And avoid using cable locks, which can be easily defeated.

Does it help to register your valuables?

We do free laptop registration, and bike registration is handled by Parking Services. This doesn’t prevent theft, but we can put a report in a national crime database, and if the items are located anywhere and the numbers are run, at least there’s a chance of getting them back.

How often does that happen?

It’s not real common. So the best plan is prevention.

Bike safety is an issue of enormous concern, especially for new students who have never ridden in an urban environment before. Can you address that issue?

Whether you are traveling as a pedestrian, in a motor vehicle, or on a bicycle, you need to be aware of safety issues concerning the use of bicycles. The number of bicycles in and around the University has increased dramatically in the last six years. The state and the city of Boston have encouraged the use of bikes for transportation, and the city has created special bike lanes on major thoroughfares throughout Boston. With the increase in usage, there has also been an increase in the number of serious injuries sustained in bicycle crashes, usually involving a collision with a motor vehicle.

Although not a legal requirement for adults, bicycle helmets are strongly recommended, and safety equipment such as reflectors and lights for nighttime use are required. As a bicycle operator, you are required to follow the rules of the road for motor vehicles, which means stopping for all traffic control signals and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks. Additionally, in cities, you cannot operate on sidewalks unless an emergency requires it. Violations can result in the imposition of a $20 fine. Operators of motor vehicles must use care in passing bicyclists and are not permitted to drive in or obstruct bicycle lanes and are subject to moving violation citations if they do. (Find information on bicycle laws and safety here.)

Does talking on a cell phone while walking at night make you more vulnerable?

Walking around talking on your cell phone after midnight probably isn’t the best way to keep your wits about you. You want to be aware of your surroundings, especially at night, when your senses should be keener. Your cell phone is a huge distraction. I know it’s possible to be on your cell phone and go from point A to point B and forget what happened in between. You arrive at your destination and say, “How did I get here?” The same with wearing headphones. You can’t hear anything around you because you have the music blaring. You can’t hear traffic, trains, someone on a bike. You’d never hear someone running up behind you. We’ve had incidents where students were talking on their cell phones while out walking late at night and were assaulted and robbed.

Is it best to cooperate with a mugger?

These items aren’t worth your safety, so why risk getting injured or worse? If you’re physically attacked all bets are off—you have to fight back and defend yourself.

It’s always good to carry something in your hands in case you’re assaulted, to fend somebody off. Carry a noise device like a whistle that you can use to gain attention if you’re being attacked. Yell as loud as you can to get help. We do offer RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) classes, and if a group wants to have a RAD class, they can contact us directly. We’ll do a class anywhere, anytime.

What advice do you have for students coming from a non-city environment?

BU is extremely safe, but don’t let your guard down. This is a large city, and it certainly changes when it gets dark. It’s best if you can walk with someone else. If you can’t, we do have an Escort Security Service on campus. Stay off your cell phone. If you need to make a call, be conscious of what’s around you.

What precautions should students take when off campus?

It’s always best to travel with others and to have a plan for where to meet up. You should know the neighborhoods you’re going to, maybe do some research. Travel in packs. A single person is a much easier target. Have cab numbers preprogrammed into your cell phone in case you find yourself stranded after hours. It’s not real expensive for a cab ride across town because the city’s not that big. It’s certainly worth a $10 investment, versus a short walk that might require walking a dark street alone.

Also, don’t leave a friend behind. When you go out and everyone wants to leave and that one friend wants to stay, be a bigger friend and talk that person into leaving with you or hang out until that person is ready to go. That should be the motto: no one left behind.

Students sometimes worry about hailing a cab late at night. What advice do you have?

First, never get into an unmarked taxi or livery vehicle. Have credible and regulated cab company phone numbers stored in your cell phone. Scrutinize the vehicle and operator before getting into the vehicle. Always look for a licensed taxi. Check for a medallion, the swatch of metal on a vehicle that shows it is registered with the Boston Police Department or a nearby city. The logo and other lettering on the cab should be permanent, rather than a temporary magnet slapped on the side. Boston taxis are primarily white in color, though that’s different in Brookline and Cambridge. And drivers should have posted photo identification. Make a note of the medallion number or license plate. Again, travel with friends when possible, and when you can’t, contact a friend and let them know you are in a cab and give them the medallion or license plate number and your destination.

The Uber app has become popular with college students. Is this a safer approach than standing on a corner late at night trying to hail a cab?

The Uber app, like the Hailo app, allows people to see in advance the name and photo of the person designated to pick them up. When the cab arrives, verify the information of the driver.

Students can unwittingly ingest a drink that has been laced with a date rape drug. What is the best way for them to protect themselves?

Obviously, never leave drinks unattended. It doesn’t take very long for someone to drop something in it. We do hear reports of people who believe it may have occurred. They only had one drink and they’re totally out of it, and that never happened before. Your best bet if you have an open drink is to leave it, forget about it, and go get another one.

If someone is the victim of a sexual assault, where can they turn for help?

Student victims of any crime, including sexual assault or domestic violence, are encouraged to avail themselves of the many crisis intervention, counseling, and student services available to them, both on campus and in the community. A crisis intervention counselor is available through Student Health Services [http://www.bu.edu/shs/] 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, during the academic year by calling (617) 353-3569. Students may also call the BUPD at (617) 353-2121 or the Dean of Students Office at (617) 353-4126 for assistance. Students who have been sexually assaulted are also encouraged to contact the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center. They can be reached at (617) 353-7277 or via email at sarp@bu.edu. Employees seeking assistance may contact the Faculty & Staff Assistance Office at (617) 353-5381 or via email at fsao@bu.edu.

How often is alcohol a factor in campus crimes?

There is a large correlation between alcohol and different crimes. All the reports we get, the disorderliness, the fights, the altercations, vandalism, you name it, it runs the gamut—9 times out of 10 you find that alcohol was involved.

An issue of great concern, especially for students living off-campus, is fire safety. What do students need to know to protect themselves?

Students, especially those living in off-campus housing, should make sure there are operating smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors on each floor. Replacing batteries as soon as you move in is a good idea. Make sure there are adequate exits and that exits are not obstructed or locked, preventing egress. If you have roommates or guests who are smokers, make sure there are sufficient receptacles for smoking materials and that all materials are properly extinguished. If you host a party and there is smoking, make sure one person is designated at the end of the night to police the area and make sure there are no burning materials. Do not allow combustibles like newspapers, books, and clothing to pile up, thus creating a fire hazard.

Overcrowding also creates a fire hazard: do not allow so many guests that egress is slowed down in the event of an emergency. Porches and decks, through design or age, may not be able to handle more than a few people and are subject to collapse. Although more tenants equals less rent, the city has laws that strictly limit the number of tenants. These laws are in place for your safety, so do not rent an apartment in a building where the limits are exceeded. Students should be aware that the Boston Zoning Code prohibits five or more full-time undergraduate college students from sharing a dwelling unit in Boston. (A guide for landlords and tenants can be found here.)

There is a new BU safety website. What can students find there?

Students can log onto the site at www.bu.edu/safety. The site has information about campus safety, including how to report crimes or other emergencies; prevention and safety; health and well-being; and important contact information. It also contains frequently asked questions about sexual misconduct and what to do in the event of a sexual assault and how to report it. The site contains information about Title IX and BU policies, along with legal and education resources. And it covers state and federal laws regarding alcohol and drug use, along with health risks, and information about the important topic of hazing.

BUPD also has a free smartphone app. How does that work?

My Police Department or MyPD is an iPhone and Android app  that lets you easily and quickly connect with our department. We want to make it as easy as possible for the community to communicate information to us and give us feedback. Options allow people to see our latest tweets, report anonymous crimes, ask questions, get directions to the police department, commend a police officer, and submit feedback.

Are there other apps to assist students at BU?

Download the BU Mobile App. This has great information about the bus schedule, maps, the BU directory, and courses. There is now an emergency icon on the app that allows you to call or text the BUPD or call Student Health Services, the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center, or the Escort Security Service.

The BUPD urges students, faculty, and staff to report suspicious people and activity on or near campus by calling 617-353-2121 or text messaging tip411 (847411), keyword: BU. Paré suggests programming the phone number into your cell phone. For additional assistance, download BUPD’s free smartphone application My Police Department (MyPD).

BU’s Escort Security Service phone number is 617-353-4877.

In the video above, BU mascot Rhett the Terrier discusses ways to stay safe both on and off campus. Video by Judicial Affairs.Scott

Find more tips on how to navigate college life in our series, Campus Life 101.

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