Old Dominion University- Safety Concerns

The President of Old Dominion University sent out the following email to the ODU community:

Dear ODU Community:

Yesterday, two Old Dominion University administrators and our Police Chief talked at length with a reporter from The Virginian-Pilot for a story on the complex issues surrounding safety in off-campus neighborhoods.

The conversation was a good one and it brought to light the need to perhaps further clarify some of those challenges and opportunities directly with the campus community. Additionally, as a result of feedback from students, parents, faculty and staff, I’d want to provide some specific details of the additional security measures the university has put into place.

As you know, many of our students live in the Lambert’s Point, Highland Park and Larchmont neighborhoods. While the university does not have control over the implementation of certain security measures and enhancements in these areas – like lighting, video surveillance and code enforcement, as examples – it does work with the City of Norfolk, neighborhood civic leagues, residents and students to encourage implementation and to identify additional solutions.

Since these communities include owner-occupied households and non-ODU renters, as well as students, solutions to crime must consider and have the cooperation of all stakeholders.

The university organized a safety task force several years ago that continues to meet every other month and includes university officials, Norfolk and ODU police, city leadership, students, civic league presidents and landlords. This group reviews on- and off-campus crime statistics and discusses and recommends appropriate interventions and other responses. Recent efforts include successfully promoting expanded Neighborhood Watch efforts, launching joint university/neighborhood crime prevention programs such as “Lock It Up, Light It Up,” and focusing more code enforcement efforts in the neighborhoods.

As a result of the recommendations of the task force, the university has offered to financially support additional code enforcement personnel for this area. Many studies show that unkempt areas, overgrown bushes and shrubs, and other such code infractions make neighborhoods more likely targets for criminal activity.

ODU shares a concurrent jurisdiction with Norfolk Police that encompasses roughly one mile around the campus. Both departments’ chiefs talk weekly, as do investigators and officers, to share information and refine strategies based on new data and always-evolving issues. While Norfolk is the primary responder to calls for service in these neighborhoods, ODU police often respond as well, since they have access to the Norfolk communications system and Norfolk dispatchers contact ODU dispatchers in certain cases. Both police departments patrol the neighborhoods.

The university has also proposed a joint policing facility adjacent to campus that would house both ODU and Norfolk police personnel. Initial planning on the design and discussions of cost sharing and overall feasibility are underway. The City has allocated $300,000 to move this planning forward. ODU has incorporated $7,821,000 in its recent capital request to the Commonwealth for this project as a high priority.

Over the past year and heading into our next fiscal year, the university will have spent nearly $2 million on additional physical improvements and personnel to address safety issues. Specifically:

· Personnel
¨ This spring, we implemented a “power shift” where additional officers are on patrol during the hours of peak student activity – Wednesday through Saturday, 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. – and specifically in the adjoining neighborhoods.
¨ We are hiring four additional officers and one sergeant to staff this shift.
¨ Over the course of the year, we spent an additional $300,000 in overtime hours for specific initiatives such as the power shift.

· Video Surveillance
¨ Installed 214 additional video surveillance cameras in the following areas: University Village Apartments, Engineering & Computational Sciences Building, Dragas Hall, Whitehurst Hall and Library parking lots, Foreman Field area, and Tennis Center.
¨ Installed a new video surveillance management system.
¨ Contracting with a national video surveillance security consultant to review our current operations, recommend enhancements and create a comprehensive plan for further expansion.

· Lighting
¨ Added lighting to the following areas:
Ø between Gornto and Batten Arts and Letters building on the west side of Lot 30
Ø behind the baseball stadium
Ø between Diehn Fine Arts Building and Webb Center
Ø on the walkway between Garage A and the sciences building
Ø around the Chemistry, Planetarium, and Mills Godwin buildings.
¨ Bay Electric conducted a lighting levels survey for the entire campus, including garages, parking lots and sidewalks. Recommendations in addition to the improvements we’ve already made will follow and we will implement them in the coming months.
¨ We are completing the painting of the parking garages, which works with the existing lighting to further brighten and illuminate the spaces. Beginning this fall, Parking and Transportation Services will also be placing personnel in the garages.

· Emergency Blue Light Phones
¨ Installed 6 new Blue Tower emergency phones at the following locations: Rogers East, Gresham, Tennis Center, Library and two at Nusbaum Apartments.
¨ Installed a new system that automatically checks each emergency phone nightly to ensure they are properly functioning.
¨ Upgrading 59 existing emergency phones.

Additionally, we expanded our efforts in communicating crime prevention tactics and awareness to students in particular, by holding monthly safety forums and creating a safety video that will be required viewing for all incoming freshmen and available to all students. These newest efforts complement our ongoing initiatives such as our community police officers who work with student organizations, residence halls programming, self-defense classes, and Patrol Aide program.

We will continue to monitor and improve the Shuttle, Safe Ride and Escort services to students, faculty and staff to travel safely around campus and to Lambert’s Point, Highland Park and Larchmont. After conducting ridership studies on the shuttles and Safe Ride, the university has revamped the routes of the shuttle service to focus primarily on on-campus travel. This decreases the wait time for the shuttles – to about 6-10 minutes depending upon the time of day – and increases the availability of the Safe Ride program to focus on off-campus service. In an average week during the school year, more than 800 riders take advantage of the Safe Ride service!

As you can see, a lot has been done to address safety concerns; but our work is not over. Safety is a continually evolving and changing issue and, as such, the university and all its partners must be vigilant and adapting in our efforts. It is crucial that all stakeholders – ODU, Norfolk, students, parents, faculty/staff and community members – take part in the ongoing discussion and be a part of the solution.

In closing, I call on Mayor Fraim, city officials, civic league leadership and our students – both on and off campus – to elevate their collective commitment in working with us to develop additional solutions. I encourage and welcome ideas and suggestions from anyone and everyone.

Sincerely,

John R. Broderick
President

I felt compelled to reply:

Dear President Broderick,

As an alumni living in [a location nearby] I sincerely appreciate the University’s efforts to improve safety both on campus and in the surrounding area. From your letters and updates it is clear that you value the University’s role in the community and the safety of your students. I agree that improving lighting, increasing the number of blue boxes and video surveillance cameras, and adding officers to the police force are vital factors in reducing crime, but these approaches, if not complimented by efforts to address the larger social and cultural issues at stake, will be ineffective in the long run.

In your most recent letter to the “ODU Community,” you only briefly address how the University will be working with civic leagues and local neighborhoods. This is a crucial part of fighting crime and increasing safety and I wish you had gone into greater detail.

One of the social issues that ODU must address is the lack of “civic mindedness” of the student body. I know there are many organizations at ODU dedicated to making a difference in the community, but in the general student body civil society is all but dead. Students are disconnected from the place in which they live. This is especially damaging in off-campus neighborhoods. Students do not feel any sort of responsibility to the neighborhoods in which they live because they know that soon they will be moving on. They are not connected to the consequences of their actions. It does not matter (to them) if they do not take care of their houses or their yards because, after all, they are just renting. They feel that it is the responsibility of the landlords, not the responsibilities of the tenants, to take care of the property, so they trash it. I cannot speak for the feelings of the landlords, but the general impression is that they do not care too much for the tenants either, because they are just students, after all, a majority of whom just trash the places they rent. The ambivalence works both ways. And this ambivalence has serious consequences on the surrounding communities. That binding sense of community, and social responsibility, and the idea of caring for your neighbor (as opposed to shooting him), essentially disappears, leaving a gaping wound, a festering ground for crime, drugs, and other unsavory, anti-social behavior. These attitudes and behaviors will not be fixed by forcing freshmen to attend awareness and crime prevention seminars. They might pay attention, and they might end up a little more aware at night, but the underlying problems will remain, and the lack of safety will persist.

Another social issue is the idea of gentrification. Gentrifying an area may make it look better, but in the mean time it destroys communities. It means tearing down what is already there and then building it up again with something totally different. The ambition is honorable in the sense that the goal is to replace it with something safer, but it is dishonorable because it usurps what is already there. The first steps of gentrification are installing a stronger police force, tearing down basketball courts, and closing lower income schools. ODU likes to believe that it is helping the surrounding communities, not destroying them, but when walking such a fine line it becomes more important than ever for the University to remain objective. I am not trying to accuse the Univeristy of trying to push out the poor. I honestly do not believe that that is the University’s true objective. I am merely trying to emphasize the fact that ODU must continually question itself and must try to look at things from all perspectives, not just its own.

The idea of many perspectives leads me to my third point. The letter was addressed to the “ODU Community,” as if ODU were one unified whole. What I loved most about studying at ODU was the high level of diversity, in many ways the opposite of unity. We may be unified by the fact that we all work at or attend ODU, but no one is ever a member of just one community. ODU has a richness of perspectives, but if they are underestimated or not respected, this blessing will become a curse. The idea of many communities extends beyond the grounds of the campus. Black and white lines of “campus” and “off-campus” are irrelevent. No one can dispute the fact that Larchmont is a totally different neighborhood than Lambert’s Point. And both differ from the neighborhood behind the Village. In Norfolk, it seems, that neighborhoods change street by street. Any policy that treats them the same may be somewhat effective, but it will not be nearly as effective as a plan that is adaptable, flexible, and as diverse as the campus itself.

I apologize for being so critical in this letter so far. I do not mean to demean or diminish the efforts that have been made. I believe that the steps are important, but that they should be part of a multi-faceted approach. Now it is time for some non-traditional steps as well. It is time to do things for the community, not for students. (I should say, not directly for students. They would, in the long run, benefit). Community block parties, for example, bring people out of their houses. People who would not have an opportunity to ever speak to one another are suddenly kicking back and playing cornhole. In a day and age when “social” media plays such a large role in people’s lives, it is amazing to think of how few opportunities people have to actually socialize. The power of these opportunities should not be underestimated. ODU has done a great job of setting up a fitness center for students, but how many basketball courts has it set up for casual play? The practice field is reserved for sports teams, the mainenance crews get mad when students tear up the mall, the field near Spong Hall is more of a mud pit than a field, so I wonder where the “commons” are. Where is the ground that anyone, student or not, can use casually? If I may go on a linguistic tangent, the word “commons” itself should be very powerful. Common, commune, community…. Historically, the commons were where communities were built, where rich met poor, and young met old. In an area so transient and so full of diversity it is ever more important to have an area where we can be reminded of what we all have in common: our humanity. Without any common ground, as I said before, ODU’s blessing of heterogeneity will be a curse instead.

Finally, thank you for taking the time to listen to my opinions. I hope that what I have said is constructive, insightful, and helpful, and I hope that I have expressed myself pleasantly and clearly. Please keep me (and the rest of the communities) informed of future developments and civic meetings. Thank you for your commitment and hard work.

Yours Truly

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