Safety starts with knowledge

Sirens wail and lights flash as an emergency vehicle races west along Providence Drive, past the University of Alaska Anchorage. Several times a day, the sirens and lights are urgent and daily reminders that safety is important for students.

Safety awareness goes beyond the sirens, as UAA and the University Police Department reinforce this reminder with a variety of events and programs to aid students in growing that awareness.

UPD vehicles rest outside Eugene Short Hall. Photo by Jason Herr.

The UAA campus is nestled in the middle of the metropolitan cityscape that is Anchorage, but when it comes to crime and safety, there are definite differences between the two.

One major aspect of campus safety is informing students about the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to disclose campus crime and security information to the public. Accessing these reports is one way that prospective students can gauge their campus based on crime and safety specific statistics.

The U.S. Department of Education, or USDOE, provides an online tool that can be used to access the Clery Act information. It also allows the viewer to compare different schools within the same browser window.

The tool can help future students to decide on their destination for higher education, according to Michael Votava, the assistant dean of students and director of student conduct and ethical development at UAA.

“I think it’s a great tool because students are able to look up information about any college across the country, and they can look at the information and look for trends to make informed decisions,” Votava said.

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These conclusions can help students to decide on attending a specific school, or to predict possible precautions for attending that school. For example, a student concerned about campus alcohol violations could use this information to decide if they need to ask for a dormitory that is substance free, according to Votava.

Aside from the tool run by the USDOE, UAA discloses this information in their own annual Security and Fire Safety report. Currently, the report provides data for 2015-2017 on Clery Act crimes at UAA.

“We’ve been providing information to new students about the Clery Act for probably about four to five years at this point. We take time during every new student orientation presentation to show crime statistics from the most recent calendar year that we have available,” Votava said.

Votava also explained that when a prospective student requests information from UAA, there is a disclaimer on the material provided that directs the individual to the online report offered by the university.

“We provide a notice to students once a year about the availability of the annual security report, and we do that by Oct. 1,” Votava said. “We always send it about four days before the deadline.”

After releasing the information, Votava follows up with UAA community campuses, as well as personally checks in with students on the main UAA campus to make sure that the notice was received.

“Another tool that goes along with Clery, if you want to know about your community that your college is in, that your university is in, are the UCR reports,” Interim Police Chief Michael Beckner of the University Police Department said.

The UCR, or Uniform Crime Reporting Program, can be used to examine crime statistics or trends within a community.

“It’s not always a reflection of what is going on in the college, but it is a reflection of what is going on in the city,” Beckner said.

The UCR can be accessed online and is prepared annually by the FBI.

Population is also key, as the UAA community decreases in the summer months.

“The current climate is that we’re in summer session, so our crime rate actually goes down during the summer as Anchorage’s goes up,” Beckner said.

Becker also attributes differences in campus crime to the University Police Department having a visible presence around the campus.

“Overall, we’re a reflection of the city. We don’t have the violent crime that the city has in different places because we’re so heavily patrolled by the University PD,” Beckner said.

Other tools available to the public are the various programs offered by UPD, such as Operation ID, RAD training and the UAA SAFE app that was released last year.

“Look at your local media, read the newspaper. They tend to cover local crime trends,” Beckner said.

Through programs such as the Clery Act, reports prepared by UAA and programs available through UPD, students can take steps to learn more about safety.  For UAA students, safety awareness doesn’t end after the sirens and lights have passed.