Blocking off Jacksonville

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After a recent stabbing at Jacksonville University and reports of violent crimes at UNF, both universities are looking for ways to address the emerging problem of outside threats encroaching campuses.

In a recent armed robbery at JU, suspects parked across the street at the Walgreens and walked onto campus where seven students were then forced to hand over a total of $25.

The department of public safety’s operating procedures and budget are being reevaluated in light of the stabbing, which was committed by a non-student from the area neighborhoods, said Derek Hall, vice president of university relations and external affairs for JU.

As soon as the stabbing occurred, the university increased overnight JSO staff from one to two officers, which are hired by JU off-duty and are paid directly by the university, Hall said.  It is the same as officers working at a movie theater or sporting events.

But UPD Chief John Dean said extra patrolling efforts by UNF can only be sustained until other issues require support. At UNF, Dean said five safety rangers provide extra eyes and ears to communicate with UPD, which is trying to up that force by five additional rangers.

The most visible step JU is taking to prevent violent crime is building a fence along University Blvd. The fence would be a half mile long, Hall said, but it has not been approved or budgeted and will not be a secure chain link, rather a decorative fence.

“The university is very serious about a barrier along University Blvd,” Hall said.

Dean said he would love to build a 12-foot wall around UNF, but the idea is simply not feasible.

“We’re not an island,” Dean said. “The more the city grows up around us, the more were going to see the influence of these outside forces.”

He added that the natural wooded area surrounding UNF can be a double edged sword, because it does provide a barrier but also provides a place to hide for criminals.

“The parking lots are my main concerns right now because we’ve got about five places one can come on campus and we can’t be at all five places at all times,” Dean said. “Traffic coming into campus is a big concern, and we want to make [UNF] very unappealing to criminals.”

But Tariq Al-Kamil, sophomore exercise science student at JU, said Public Safety has its priorities mixed up, focusing too much on parking rather than the safety of the students.

Hall said Public Safety uses minimal resources to cover the parking lots in the daytime for parking pass violators, and at night Public Safety focuses solely on the student’s well-being.

“I just don’t feel like they’re doing anything at all,” Al-Kamil said.

The unarmed security officers have the right to protect themselves and someone else, but if any additional support is needed to handle a situation, JSO must be contacted, Dean said.

Tony Salgado, JU junior marketing major, said Public Safety is doing a fairly good job, but their presence is weak in the dormitory areas.

At JU, between the dormitories and the main campus, students must walk through what they refer to as the valley because the dormitories and the main campus are on higher ground. Students walking from the dorms must walk down the stairs, through “The Valley,” and then up the stairs to get to the main campus.

Salgado said the valley is where some robberies occur after dark. Mark Johnson, sophomore art student at JU, said the campus is wide open and easily accessible from the outside after dark.

But Hall said that only one road in to campus is open after 11 p.m. and that identification is checked by security at that entry point.

Dean said UPD is putting together a program by the fall semester for students who live on campus who will provide basic safety and self defense tips.

“When you look at it from a statistical standpoint as I have, research shows that people who take an active role in protecting their well being typically survive events and are not victims as much as people that don’t,” Dean said.

He suggested students walk with a partner at night, carry a whistle or some type of alarm device, carry pepper spray and remain aware of simple techniques to discourage further harm or assault. A poke in the eye, a hit in the throat or even a kick to the groin are effective and can give a victim time to flee, Dean said.

“I don’t want students to think that they will ever face litigation for using self defense,” Dean said. “I want students to use whatever they can use to protect themselves. Once the attack is over though, that means the student stops too,” Dean said. “You do enough until you can get away before the suspect flees.”

E-mail Josh Gore at [email protected]
Jonathan Morales contributed to the report.