Women take charge of their own
safety at classes that teach them to fight back.
It’s a big responsibility. “The mission of the department is to provide a safe and secure environment for the campus community,” says Larry Barnett, assistant vice president for public safety. Students may be USD’s largest stakeholder, but the charge also includes protecting faculty, staff and visitors. The latter category may include dignitaries who don’t come with their own security detail, such as Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner who spoke on campus in September. Barnett prides himself on running a department that functions professionally, like a sworn police department, ready to respond to anything that happens on campus. Still, the San Diego Police Department would be the primary responder for any felonies that may occur on campus.
“We have for many years had a strong relationship with the San Diego Police Department,” Barnett says. That includes working on the College Law Enforcement Task Force, which looks to solve problems both on- and off- local college campuses.
Most incidents that do occur on campus are crimes of opportunity, Barnett says. (The department’s annual report, which includes statistics for 2005 and other important public safety information, can be found at www.sandiego.edu/safety; click the Annual Report link.)
The ongoing charge for the Department of Public Safety is to remind students and others to protect themselves and their valuables. “To me, the message is, ‘Be aware of the potential for crime to occur,’” Barnett says.
Toward that end, before the Fall 2006 school year began, Public Safety was working with the Mission Beach Town Council, the San Diego Police Department and others to promote USD student involvement in neighborhood watch programs. The focus was in Mission Beach, an area heavily populated with the denizens of Alcalá Park. Work began over the summer so that officials could present information at the Alcalá Bazaar for students interested in becoming more involved in their community.
All that planning helped the campus respond in mid-October when four USD students at an off-campus apartment in Mission Beach were the victims of a horrific crime that shocked the entire city. Gunmen sexually attacked the two women during a robbery. San Diego police made arrests the same week; three men and two 17-year-old boys face charges.
Within hours of the attack, Barnett convened USD’s Critical Incident Response Team, a group of administrators trained to provide support from their various areas — including counseling, residential life, university ministry and public relations.
“Our number one focus on that Sunday afternoon was how to provide for our students who had been victimized in this incident,” Barnett says. That focus was on providing for their continued safety and getting them counseling. The next priority was to tend to family members and friends closest to the victims, then continue providing whatever help was needed to the larger campus community, Barnett says.
USD also sent fliers to all the residence halls letting students know about what had happened in Mission Beach. Barnett doesn’t want to give away the “additional security measures” public safety officers took on campus to make sure all were safe.
Among the higher profile efforts to respond to the crime were a series of community meetings, including one in Mission Beach the night after the attacks and a student forum on campus the following week. Public Safety also publicized its Rape Aggression Defense classes to help women take charge of their well-being. The efforts didn’t stop there: A student rally in mid-November was aimed at continuing to keep the issue of rape and safety front-and-center. “If you talk to Public Safety officers, I think what you will walk away with is a very strong personal commitment to the safety of each individual and the property of this campus,” Barnett says.
Larry Barnett holds open office hours for “Coffee with the Chief” daily from 8:30-9 a.m in Hughes Administration Center, Rm. 144.