Throughout the week of Monday, April 2, the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA), President’s Student Advisory Council (PSAC), and Public Safety Department held an ongoing series of events in what was collectively referred to as Public Safety Awareness Week. As part of Public Safety Awareness Week, officers and administrators from the Public Safety Department were present on the MTCC Bridge both Monday and Wednesday, spreading awareness of the department and distributing raffle tickets to win a free speaker and pair of headphones. Other events that were part of this awareness week included a night walk of campus on Wednesday night, a self-defense workshop with the Illinois Tech Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Club on Thursday night, and a bowling social with Public Safety in the Bog also on Thursday night. However, perhaps the most substantial part of this awareness week was the Town Hall Forum held during the student lunch hour on Tuesday, April 3 in the MTCC Auditorium.
As with all SGA Town Hall Forums, this panel presented an opportunity for students to ask questions of the Public Safety Department and receive immediate answers from the administration at the top of the department, namely Director of Public Safety Art Martinez and Assistant Director of Public Safety - Operations Teresa Bursoni. Also present in the audience were Vice President for Administration Bruce Watts and Dean of Students Katherine Stetz. The forum was moderated by SGA’s Vice President of Student Life, Trixie Weiner.
After brief introductions, Weiner opened the forum with a pre-submitted question from an anonymous student asking about the emergency blue lights scattered around campus and how some appear to not be operational. Martinez and Bursoni responded by explaining how the current program mandates that all emergency lights around campus are checked on a monthly basis to make sure their lights function, their speakers are audible, and their connections are secure. Watts also took the opportunity to explain that, on the logistics side, new bulbs have been identified that will greatly reduce the intensity and time of maintenance needed for the lights. Martinez concluded the discussion of this question by reminding the audience that Public Safety can be reached in many ways, from face-to-face interactions with officers to contacting the department’s Facebook account to let them know whenever any of the blue lights are not operational so that a quick response can be made.
The next question Weiner presented asked that, in the event of a confrontation, what are students advised to do? Martinez responded by plainly stating that if individuals are not trained or experienced in potentially violent situations, their responses will oftentimes leave them in a disadvantaged state, so the best response is the one that will get the problem to end in the smoothest manner possible. “Do not resist or test your skills,” Martinez stated. “You may not know anything about the perpetrator, so don’t take any risks.” Compliance and non-violence is the stance that Martinez and Public Safety advise all students to take in confrontational situations. As Bursoni concluded, “your phone and electronics can be replaced. Your life cannot be.”
A follow-up question then asked Public Safety what should a crime victim’s immediate next steps be after an incident occurs. Martinez once again took the lead in the response by stating that it depends on where the incident occurred and where the victim is currently located. If a crime occurs on campus, Martinez advises immediately calling Public Safety (contact information at the end of this article), who will then call the Chicago Police Department, as needed. If the incident occurs off-campus, then calling 911 is advised. In either case, Martinez stressed the importance of taking the steps to reach out to authorities and getting the incident documented so that information can be added to existing records and help with statistical trend-tracking and ongoing investigations.
Watts and Martinez then answered the next question about the Public Safety escort service and why it takes students to pre-selected drop zones instead of directly to their places of residence. It was stated that the current stops were determined by several months of analyses and by student demand. The primary limiting factor to the escort service is how, if it were to revert to its historical system of dropping students off at specifically requested sites, it would lead to Public Safety vehicles and officers spending more time off-campus, not present to maintain their deterring presence. This increased time spent off-campus, in turn, has led to longer waiting times for the shuttle service, prompting some students to simply walk, defeating its entire purpose. Thus, the current alternative of utilizing predefined shuttle stops strikes a healthy balance in keeping the service alive while still keeping Public Safety resources available on-campus.
Weiner’s next series of questions was based on the unfortunately relevant topic of school shootings across America and how Illinois Tech is responding and preparing for such a scenario. Martinez began by describing how the university has been working with resources from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop plans and training, with the goal of eventually holding exercises on-campus among Public Safety officers to be able to respond to such a scenario. Dean Stetz then added by describing an internal staff committee consisting of members from Public Safety, the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC), and other administrative bodies that monitors incident reports and tracks certain “people-of-concern” both inside and outside the university. She described how this committee has talked about the specific trend of school shootings and regularly makes threat assessments, looking into students and employees that have been separated from the university, even taking action when necessary to minimize such threats.
On the reactionary side, Martinez also laid out a basic action plan that should be followed when an active shooter or other emergency situation occurs on-campus. After the initial moments of denial and panic, Martinez stressed that individuals must use their best judgment to either leave the immediate vicinity as quickly as possible until a safe place is reached, or they must contain themselves within the room they are in, locking the door, covering any windows, pushing as much furniture against the door as possible, getting down, and quietly waiting for law enforcement authorities.
Watts then took the opportunity to remind the audience that they should all sign for the IIT Alert system. All alerts from the system come from his phone within minutes of a report and assessment, and when asked how long it would theoretically take before students are notified, he stated that it depends on how long the first report takes to reach Public Safety. Discrepancies between past robberies and alerts have been due to the time taken for the first report to be issued.
It should also be noted that Public Safety presence is constant, year-round. Winter break, spring break, and summer break do not lead to a decreased Public Safety presence on-campus. The same number of officers and resources are present, every day of the year.
The final question was more theoretical in nature, asking about the long-term possibility of improving overall campus safety through its physical design. Martinez addressed this suggestion warmly, first stating that his philosophy with Public Safety is to give off the impression of being omnipresent on campus, with an officer always within shouting distance, but that steps to improve safety through design are also very valid. In fact, he also mentioned that a number of planned projects reflect the same mindset. One of these projects consists of planned renovations to the 34th Street Green Line entry staircase to refurbish it, as well as possibly moving the nearby dumpster enclosure. The other project is the activation of the new Kaplan Institute Building, brightening up the surrounding area and drawing a lot more pedestrian foot traffic.
The Public Safety Department’s emergency phone number is 1-312-808-6263, and its non-emergency phone number is 1-312-808-6300. The department can also be reached via email at [email protected].