Editor’s note: This story contains mentions of sexual assault and rape.
Some UF students are on high alert after the rape and attempted kidnapping of two women on Sept. 10.
As crime continues in Gainesville, University Police Sergeant Chad Holway said UF is working on initiatives to improve safety on campus, especially at night.
Changes include making street lights on campus brighter, upgrading emergency blue lights, keeping 24/7 security around campus, encouraging women to take self-defense classes and promoting its GATOR SAFE app as a form of contact between students, staff and UPD.
“We are constantly evaluating how to do our jobs better. We have a chief’s advisory board where non-police officers, campus partners, professors and students are involved, and they're constantly looking at our policies and procedures,” he said.
Holway said UF is switching the light fixtures on campus from halogen bulbs to LED bulbs, which are brighter and more efficient at night. Additionally, UF is trimming trees to avoid branches blocking lights.
In addition to on-campus lighting, UPD is upgrading its blue light emergency stands. The bright blue non-dial emergency phones, which can be seen around campus, are being switched from audio to video calls. Each time a blue light is activated by a distressed student, video of the surrounding area will be broadcast to the police station, he said.
Following a recent wave of reported cases around campus, Kelly Sigmon, 21-year-old UF information systems junior, is concerned about crime rates in the area.
“I personally do not feel safe on campus at night,” she said. “There are some very sketchy people, and they try to get women at night. With all of the rapes going on, it's just very scary.”
Beside the new projects, UPD already has officers patrolling the campus in their cars 24/7 to ensure student safety at all times, Holway said.
Holway said despite these on-campus efforts, UPD has no jurisdiction in areas outside of the premises. But that is where some students feel the least safe.
“The University of Florida has a budget,” he said. “We can only touch what's on campus.”
Any changes off campus, like lighting changes on state roads, are under the jurisdiction of the Gainesville Police Department or the state, Holway said.
Malanie Salinas, 18-year-old UF nursing freshman, said she has only ever felt unsafe when off campus at her apartment.
New to Gainesville, she said she’s still heard Gainesville Place Apartments is not safe. She was not aware of how frequent crime occurred in the complex before moving into it.
“I don't feel super safe,” she said.
Over the past two years, there have been more than 258 reports of crimes in the last nine months at Gainesville Place located at 2800 SW 35th Place.
Nicholas Velez, 22-year-old UF accounting senior, said he is shocked by the amount of crime that has occurred on campus during his time at UF.
“It's really messed up,” he said. “I hate seeing those notifications whenever the police notify us. It's appalling. It's disgusting. I wish stuff like that didn't happen at colleges, but the ugly fact is that it happens way more than it's reported.”
In an effort to make female students feel safer on campus, Holway said UPD is encouraging all women to sign up for self-defense courses led by the police department. The two-hour course, known as S.A.F.E., teaches safety strategies and dynamic moves.
“It’s not a karate class, we don't teach you to fight. We teach you to defend yourself,” he said.
In addition to these classes, UPD has developed an app called GatorSafe that is available for free and puts students in immediate contact with the UPD.
“When you are using the GatorSafe app, and you contact UPD via text or via phone, we're there for you. Our response time is sometimes a minute, two minutes,” he said.
Sergeant Holway said UPD is doing its best to make students on campus feel safe, despite any hurdles that may come in the way.
“Are we perfect? No. Are we trying? Absolutely,” Holway said. “It’s a marathon that may never end.”
Contact Maya Erwin at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MayaErwin3.
Maya is a third-year journalism major at the University of Florida covering university general assignment news for The Alligator. In her free time, Maya loves traveling, spending time with friends and listening to music.