University of Utah to invest nearly $1 million to improve campus safety

Lauren McCluskey. Photo Courtesy: Facebook

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Aug. 15, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — University of Utah President Ruth Watkins has approved the hiring of a chief safety officer, to coordinate and oversee initiatives on campus, and the investment of nearly $1 million to improve campus safety, officials said Thursday.

“The new chief safety officer position is one of more than two dozen recommendations made by the Presidential Task Force on campus safety, which the president reconvened in December to look at general safety practices and resources,” said a news release from the U of U. “Watkins has accepted all the proposals from the task force, whose members represented a cross-section of campus entities.”

The university will, over time, invest approximately $925,000 to implement the group’s recommendations.

“These actions are in addition to approximately $6 million in safety expenditures that will be made by other campus entities over the next several years and which the task force has endorsed, such as hiring more security officers for Health Sciences buildings and installing new security systems in older campus housing units,” the news release said.

The task force recommendations also are in addition to 30 campus-wide improvements made following an independent team’s review of the university’s response in the Lauren McCluskey case. McCluskey, who was 21, was shot dead in a car outside her dormitory on campus on Oct. 22, 2018. Her parents subsequently filed a $56 million lawsuit against the U.

“I am very appreciative of all the time, analysis and research task force members dedicated to this effort,” Watkins said. “Safety is a top priority for our campus and this committee brought forward many good ideas. We are determined to make this institution as safe as it can be.

In addition to hiring a chief safety officer, other task force recommendations being implemented include:

  • Make student parking available after 3 p.m. in lots adjacent to the Marriott Library, the Eccles Library and the Student Union.
  • Cluster evening classes in quadrants, with corresponding alignment of campus transportation systems, courtesy escorts and campus security patrols.
  • Expand emergency mass communication capability by adopting a system that allows emergency messages to be communicated within buildings, including via desktop and landline telephone systems, and broadcast throughout campus grounds.
  • Add a Threat Assessment Team as an adjunct to the Behavioral Intervention Team, creating a two-team system capable of assessing both threats from outside and inside campus.
  • Hire an additional consultant in the Office of Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action and an additional student conduct case manager in the Office of the Dean of Students.
  • Increase self-defense training workshops on campus offered in conjunction with Survivors of Assault Standing Strong.
  • Expand the online training module system used by the U to include faculty and staff and add additional online training modules for students.
  • Contract with a third-party consulting firm to conduct a phased security assessment of all campus buildings and physical surroundings.
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“These actions will advance our efforts to build a culture of safety at the U,” said Michele Ballantyne, who co-chaired the task force with Barb Snyder, former vice president of student affairs. “Most important, they will result in tangible changes that benefit everyone, especially students.”

The task force met between December 2018 and July 2019. The co-chairs and some task force members also met with various groups on campus to gather additional information about helpful safety measures. Students advocated specifically for centralizing evening classes on campus and for parking options located close to buildings in use at night, such as libraries.

Former U President David Pershing first commissioned the task force in January 2017 to look at measures to improve campus safety. That year, the university invested nearly $400,000 in safety-related actions.

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