SFC, UF step up safety measures


A car drives past an emergency alert station in a parking lot at Santa Fe College, in Gainesville Jan. 23, 2012. (Brad McClenny/Staff photographer)

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 9:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 9:51 p.m.

Some safety and security projects have been on the back burner for years at Santa Fe College, but after the alleged kidnapping of a student earlier this month, those efforts are now on the forefront of the college's agenda.

Students asked Santa Fe College Police Chief Ed Book during a meeting last week if they should be concerned.

"You should already be concerned about your safety," he said.



The college is, too, officials say, now moving forward with longstanding plans to increase the campus police force, ensuring the campus is well-lit and replacing outdated emergency telephones on campus.

The renewed effort is a result of an alleged kidnapping of a female Santa Fe student on Jan. 12 near the construction building. According to police reports, the student was approached by a man with a handgun and she was ordered into a black pickup truck. The student was able to escape hours later when the truck slowed along Northwest 39th Avenue. No one has been arrested, and police continue to search for the kidnapper.

General Counsel Patti Locascio, who oversees the police department, said the campus approach to safety remains sound.

"I think that we've done everything we possibly can, and right now we're working on educating our faculty and staff on how to work together to create a safe environment," she said.

But available resources have been underutilized, Locascio said.

In 2011, there were 378 requests for police escorts around campus, averaging about one a day. Since the incident occurred on Jan. 12, about two dozen requests have been called in.

Sometimes officers serve as escorts without a request called in, she said.

Members of the Student Senate asked last week if more emergency "blue light" telephones could be installed.

Those phones are not only outdated, but hardly used, Locascio said.

In 2011, a dozen calls were made on those phones, eight of which were deemed non-emergencies or possible pranks. One was a car accident and another for assistance with a dead car battery.

The college tested the phones twice last year, Locascio said. Eleven phones are spread across campus.

Locascio said the college is exploring installing newer emergency phones that also can broadcast warnings and alerts through a speaker system.

"This is all in the very initial stages," she said.

The Santa Fe College Police Department employs 16 sworn officers. Locascio said the college will hire an additional two officers, something that has been moved to a higher priority after the kidnapping.

"We're doing everything we can to increase our force and our presence," she said.

That also includes invoking a "mutual aid" agreement with other law enforcement agencies.

"For the foreseeable future, we have a deputy from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and/or an officer from the University Police Department to help patrol the campus," she said.

The University of Florida also is taking precautions in light of the kidnapping and in the wake of other recent crimes in the campus area, said Major Brad Barber, University Police Department spokesman. The past two months have seen two rapes, an attempted rape and armed robberies reported near Sorority Row and other parts of the UF campus area.

Barber said the department had increased patrols around Sorority Row and allowed the Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol, normally an on-campus service, to provide rides to off-campus sororities. Students have been told to remain vigilant about their surroundings, he said, contacting police if they see anything suspicious.

"If you're suspicious of something or someone, contact law enforcement immediately ... We'd prefer to proactively investigative activities or people instead of reactively investigating a criminal incident," he said.

Santa Fe also is trying to be proactive by installing new lighting. The college brought in temporary lighting to problem areas.

Associate Vice President for Facilities Services Bill Reese said a contractor is working to add lighting near the Teaching Zoo and the overflow lot near where the incident occurred.

"This incident has put it on top of the pile," he said. "The overflow lot typically doesn't have cars in it at night, but now is not the time to second-guess what's the best thing to do."

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