UMLPD Officer Jeff Connors speaks with a university student at Coffee with a Cop event. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell)
Despite living in Lowell’s urban environment, UMass Lowell students said they felt safe on campus, and university police agree that the campus is secure. However, some are wary about their safety off campus, and the police said that students should be aware of resources available to them to help alleviate some the anxiety. Sources such as safety talks held by clubs on campus, the university’s transportation system and an app that connects students directly to the school’s police department are available to all students, commuter or residential.
“People have a different impression of what reality is because of what goes on in the city, but the campus itself is very safe, and for the most part the neighborhoods that the kids are living off campus in are good,” said UMass Lowell’s campus resource officer Jeffrey Connors. “Maybe some are better than others, but the actual issues kids are having are not necessarily related to crime.”
According to the Annual Security Report for 2016, the UMass Lowell Police Department has 34 full-time officers who patrol the campus, “conduct criminal investigations, and provide crime prevention and educational services.” In 2016, the campus police received four reports of rape, six instances of fondling, seven instances of aggravated assault, six of domestic violence and three of burglary, among other reports.
While almost all of these occurrences have gone in down in number from the previous two years, there are numerous factors that could contribute to that, and the police say it is better to call them if there is an issue, especially off campus where they otherwise would not know. Additionally, the officers also said knowing how to protect oneself and ensuring safety both on and off campus could lead to even fewer offenses.
Despite the relatively low criminal activity, some students are still hesitant about going downtown or anywhere off campus, even if they are in a group. That is due, in part, to the ideas people have about Lowell as Connors said.
“It definitely makes me nervous [going out]. Like I know when my friends go out, I definitely get nervous. I think I would just be more focused on staying in a group and that type of thing, like not being alone,” said Vanessa Dichiara, a commuter student. “All I really know about is the blue lamps, and I know about the app. I don’t use it because I’m not really here, but I feel like if I lived here I definitely would.”
In an attempt to address some students’ concerns, the university police hold a talk at the beginning of each school year for all freshmen students. But for commuter or transfer students, they would likely miss the opportunity to learn about the campus police resources or additional ways to protect themselves.
“For freshmen, we do first-year presentations. We talk about over-drinking, being careful walking around off campus, using the transportation provided by the university and keeping your dorm locked, all these different kinds of things,” said William Emmons, an officer and partner to Connors. “We address all the issues we’ve seen over the years to keep them safe.”
The Annual Security Report also included over 30 different talks or events held by UMass Lowell that focused on sexual assault prevention and awareness. But Connors and Emmons said that at least with the ones the campus police are involved in, the turnout is usually not what they were hoping for.
“We have [seen large turnouts]; we’ve had some that got really no turnout, but that was something we organized,” Connors said. “We contacted all the group presidents, threw it out there—day, time, made it right at the Club Hub—and we had like two, three people.”
One of the tools that the officers recommended was the Rave Guardian app, which provides a direct contact to the campus police. If a student presses the emergency button in the app, it will contact the campus police dispatchers and give them their GPS location, as long as the student is using the campus Wi-Fi.
Aside from individual tools, there are various clubs on campus that can help inform students. Michelle Janiak is a member of the Campus Advocates for Prevention Education group, or CAPE, which seeks to educate students on resources for sexual assault safety and suicide prevention.
“Part of CAPE’s job is to try to introduce students to those resources and just show people more ways to get involved so they know the resources,” Janiak said. “I have most of all the [police] numbers saved in my phone and I think that’s another thing that students should just have in their phones for a precaution.”
Ultimately, police said that it is up to students to get involved in clubs, attend informational meetings and utilize campus tools to aid in their safety both on and off campus.
“People have a responsibility to read the stuff that’s given to them, to listen to their RAs, to lock their vehicles, lock their rooms, secure their own possessions,” said Connors. “If you go around and don’t heed anybody’s advice, there’s a good chance someone is going to take advantage of you at some point in your four years here.”