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Tuesday, June 06, 2023
<p>UPD officer Steve Wilder speaks with UPD Police Chief Linda Stump on Monday night near McCarty Hall, where a woman was attacked Sunday night. UPD combined efforts with GPD and campus volunteers to patrol campus Monday night.</p>

UPD officer Steve Wilder speaks with UPD Police Chief Linda Stump on Monday night near McCarty Hall, where a woman was attacked Sunday night. UPD combined efforts with GPD and campus volunteers to patrol campus Monday night.

Linda Stump sipped her Coke through a thin straw as she drove her red Ford Explorer through UF’s campus Monday night.

“I’m not a coffee drinker,” said UF’s Chief of Police, tapping the silver thermos the soda splashed around in.

She needed the carbonated caffeine. She’s not used to working nights.

And neither are the 26 officers UPD switched to night shifts following Sunday’s assault on campus, the fourth since Aug. 30.

All four victims of the attacks gave similar descriptions of the perpetrator, a white male at least 6 feet tall with a large build. He remains at large.

Where 12 officers once patrolled campus alone, officers from UPD and Gainesville Police now monitored the streets. A K-9 unit stationed itself near the Reitz Union. Officers on bikes whizzed up and around Newell Drive. And about 20 volunteers from campus organizations wore reflective fluorescent vests and walked in pairs, escorting students safely through campus.

At each glance, a cop car, officer or volunteer was visible. Yet as Stump pulled her SUV up onto a curb near McCarty Hall, pockets of darkness seeped into view.

Fronds glowed green under the bright beam of her headlights. As she stepped out of the car and slammed the door behind her, the lights snapped off. Despite a single light post, the small path between McCarty buildings B and C was black again.

“This is where it happened,” she said, referring to Sunday’s assault. She walked forward, passing a bright blue emergency light and the hum of a few vending machines as she disappeared into the darkness. “Now imagine it’s pouring rain.”

She ran through the incident: A man grabbed a woman from behind, hitting her and pulling her down. They wrestled around for a bit before he ran off.

Trees that shade students in the day sheltered the predator that night.

The woman called the cops. But he was gone.

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And suddenly, the officers on the streets didn’t seem like enough.

“This isn’t an impossible feat,” Stump said, “but we need some luck.”

■   ■   ■

Just before 9 p.m. Monday, about 25 women spilled out of UPD headquarters and onto the sidewalk. There they waited, paired off, before loading into Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol vans and police cars and heading out.

The women had just finished the first of four Rape Aggression Defense classes they will take this week. Where this installment was mostly verbal, the next three will involve physical activity. No weapons are used — just hands and legs; strikes and kicks.

Samantha Rios, an 18-year-old UF freshman from Rogersville, Tennessee, said she signed up for the self-defense class Friday after hearing about the third assault, which occurred that morning near Library West.

“I come from a small town,” Rios said. “I’m not used to this kind of thing.”

But Rios wasn’t alone. Tina Lamb, RAD coordinator, said she received hundreds of emails last weekend asking to register.

Has her inbox ever been that full?

“No,” Lamb said. “Absolutely not.”

Lamb said UPD offers two courses each week, and as of Monday night, courses were booked until Oct. 27.

“Since I’ve been coordinator, the program has not filled up this far in advance,” Lamb said. “Although it’s a very negative situation, it’s good whatever happened on campus gave them that drive to come.”

■   ■   ■

At UPD dispatch, UF advertising junior Amanda Fernandez tracked SNAP requests and relayed pick-up locations to drivers.  

Radios beeped and went static as pick-ups were confirmed and requests came in.

In front of her, two iPad screens monitored the requests, prioritizing and pinpointing them over a campus map. At about 9:30 p.m. Monday, the maps were full of blinking icons — each one representing a student who needed a safe ride.

At that time, the wait was 10 minutes.

“We’re very busy,” Fernandez said. “Probably equivalent to Friday nights, but worse. And on Friday night we only run four vans.”

On Monday, there were nine vans in service, three of which Stump said the department rented from Enterprise.

The rides are available from 6:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Stump said UPD officers will provide police escorts to students during and after that time. She said the school’s medical amnesty still applies, so students who are intoxicated and under the legal drinking age will not get in trouble if they request a ride from a UPD officer.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” said Officer Darren Baxley. “We’re snagging people walking alone, asking ‘Do you have a ride?’“

Still, as he made his way through campus around dusk at the start of his night shift, he counted 83 people walking alone.

■   ■   ■

As the night went on, rumors came and went through UPD and GPD dispatch. Men who matched the description of the suspect were stopped on the streets, questioned, and subsequently released with alibi.

Stump rode through campus with her air conditioning on and her windows down, listening. Fear and humidity sat stagnant in the air.

“If somebody’s attacking one student, it’s personal,” Stump said. “The bottom line is they should be able to walk wherever they want.”

For the next three weeks, all UPD vacation requests have been canceled. The measures in place Monday are expected to extend for weeks to come.

“This is our top priority,” Stump said. “It’s a hard turnaround, but I haven’t heard one complaint from these guys.”

[A version of this story ran on page 3 on 9/9/2014 under the headline "Riding along: University Police ramps up nighttime patrol"]

UPD officer Steve Wilder speaks with UPD Police Chief Linda Stump on Monday night near McCarty Hall, where a woman was attacked Sunday night. UPD combined efforts with GPD and campus volunteers to patrol campus Monday night.

UF Chief of Police Linda Stump points out a blue emergency light near McCarty hall on Monday night. The dark pathway behind her — between buildings B and C — was where a fourth woman was attacked Sunday night.

UF police officers stop and question a man on Stadium Road on Monday night. UPD and GPD combined efforts to increase campus patrols.

A GPD officer speaks with students and campus volunteers in front of Library West on Monday night. UPD combined with GPD to increase campus patrols following four assaults that happened on and near campus within the span of nine days.

Amanda Fernandez, a UF advertising junior, relays Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol ride requests to drivers via phone and radio calls. Nine vans were in service Monday night. UPD typically runs three.

A campus volunteer from UF's chapter of the Delta Chi fraternity holds his ID badge, identifying him as a UF student and police volunteer. Two groups of 20 volunteers walked in pairs throughout campus, escorting students safely. One group worked from 7 to 11 p.m. and another group of 20 worked from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.

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