The future isn’t certain for Walk Safe, the safety service that began in response to a string of on-campus assaults last semester.
University Police’s Walk Safe program has served a total of 4,142 students since it began in October. It is guaranteed to run until the end of the semester, and then it’s up to the office of the vice president and Student Government to decide if it should continue, said Chad Holway, a UPD officer and the program’s coordinator.
Holway said it developed through emergency funding.
“The office of the vice president had agreed to fund, on an emergency basis, a safety board which was developed at that time,” he said.
It would cost $228,925 to fund the program annually, according to a Walk Safe cost assessment form. It was $27,432 in the Fall and $76,308 this Spring. Employees worked eight-hour shifts every day at an average of $8.64 an hour. There was a record 1,030 escorts in February and an overall average of 700 escorts per month since the Fall.
The safety board will decide whether to place the program on a permanent budget for the upcoming semester.
Holway said the Walk Safe program runs on a year-to-year basis.
“It’s above our heads and is not something that’s being decided by the police department,” he said. “This program is in its very, very immature stage, and it’s up for review every year, just as all of us are.”
Walk Safe began with volunteers patrolling UF’s main campus and sorority row following a series of attempted sexual assaults in September. The small groups of volunteers evolved into a full force of 39 employees who are available to walk with students on campus from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. every night, said Michelle Tapia, 18, one of the program’s supervisors.
“It’s an amazing, innovative program that really helps people,” the UF journalism freshman said.
Holway said he believes Walk Safe is just as important as any other safety measure on campus.
“I think that our job is to keep campus safe, and any resource that we can put into place is beneficial to our students,” he said. “Anything that you can tie back to keeping people safe is important.”
Asia McKenzie, a 22-year-old UF public relations junior, began working with the program since its early days. She said she believes it would be a mistake to end the program at this time.
“I love my job because I get to help people in a small way,” McKenzie said. “But since the police never caught the suspect, I don’t think my job is over just yet.”
Editor’s Note: The writer of this article was a paid Walk Safe escort from October to December.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 - 4 on 3/20/2015 under the headline “Future unclear for UF Walk Safe program”]