Campus Security: Guides and Guards

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The first time I spotted him by  a clearing in the woods right before the main entrance of SUNY, where I dorm, I was on a bus and my fleeting gaze only settled on him for a few seconds, but those few seconds were enough to sprout certitude and doubt at the same time. Long unkempt muddy brown hair, a cap pulled down over the eyes, a seedy trench coat with over-brimming pockets and a distinctively short height. I took into account all these features in those few seconds because that’s how odd he looked in his environment. Never before had I seen someone that out-of-place on the campus of SUNY before.

In retrospect, it’s amazing that I even remembered him. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

He’s right: We seldom take notice of certain things that seem infinitesimally trivial but could be of grave importance.  Like that one person who seems out of place in the campus, but could be just anybody. Or that car that is pulled up in a derelict corner and even though arouses suspicion, doesn’t seem important enough to report. Crime lurks behind seconds of time waiting to happen, it ensnares you with no warning and offers very few or no choices.

Even though I recounted what I’d seen to a few of my friends, I didn’t take it seriously enough…well, at least not till I saw him again. The very same man, in the same clothes, only in another part of the woods. This time without a shadow of a doubt I knew he didn’t belong here and was up to no good. The things that convinced me of this were the facts that he didn’t look like a student, staff member or security. Secondly, he looked nervous and projected an anxious disposition. Lastly, the woods is a strange place for a person to walk around all day for no reason.

I spent the next two days in deep thinking, trying to be punctiliously accurate about every little detail that I could remember about his physical appearance and ruling out any possibility of him being a part of the campus or even a guest.

And then I knew what I had to do. I approached the SUNY campus security immediately and delineated everything. To my astonishment, similar sightings had been reported prior to my visit!  Officer on duty assured me that they were on a look out for this reported prowler who had been spotted by several SUNY students on different occasions. The investigation on this matter had been going on for a while now and the SUNY CPD informed me of the posters that were being put up all over the premises to create a vigil against this prowler who nobody could seem to recognize as being a part of the school or dorms.

One dorming NYIT student reports, “It was really creepy to hear from the SUNY students about this stranger who cruises around in his rusty old pick-up truck and offers rides to random female students. I have started walking only in groups after dark ever since.”

Knowing that this strange man had been sighted by several SUNY students, I went scouring for some information. I have to admit, it wasn’t easy to ingratiate myself in the student crowd, being an International student. Many students were hesitant while others were reticent, but when I met Leticia, a sophomore business student, she divulged information that had me dumbfounded.

“He was a shabbily dressed man, with long dirty hair. He drives an old pick-up truck and when he asked me if I wanted a ride, I noticed he had a very odd accent. It was his eyes that creeped me out. They were dark and nervous, like he was always looking for something or someone. When he persistently tried to talk to me, I rushed into the Campus Center building from where I saw him drive away.”

Now I knew for sure that what I’d seen wasn’t just an apparition or the trick of my mind. This man was real! And if anything was certain, it was his malicious intent. After this incident, however, I couldn’t help but ponder over the threats that we face as students on and off campus and how nonchalant we are to the subject.

Campus security is not just the campus’s responsibility but also the students’. It is our duty before anybody else’s to keep ourselves safe. So instead of doling out advice on the same, I reckoned it would be better if it came straight from the horse’s mouth. Officer Michael Yanella who is the Chief of Campus Police at SUNY old Westbury, says, “The safety of our students is our primary concern, which is why we ran a comprehensive investigation on the matter of the reported prowler and I’m glad to announce that this issue has been resolved. Also, we at SUNY expect our students to keep an eye out for any such situation”. Being a distrustful journalist myself, I needed corroboration to his claims. Hence only when some students stated that they’d seen a search party sent by the campus police in the woods and other cloistered areas of the campus, did I breathe a sigh of relief.

I also had the fortune of meeting with the Director of Security at NYIT, Denis McGuckin, who, when asked what should NYIT students be wary of, exclaimed, “Strangers! Watch out for strangers! Someone who doesn’t belong! That’s why we give out stickers for the cars and register cars with us here at the security building. So we know if someone is out of place or from around here.” Does only a total stranger pose the threat of assault? What if it’s a fellow student you rubbed the wrong way? A vindictive ex-boyfriend/girlfriend?  Or even a close friend you recently fell out with?

The Director opines, “More often than not, an altercation between two known parties can get aggravated. It is a rare occasion when a stranger is involved. Thus, it is precautionary to use the escort service if you’re alone at late hours. The students should familiarize themselves with what we do here at the Security department. We have informative brochures for the same which can be collected here at the security office.”

But an assault is not the only threat to a student’s safety. It could also be a bad driver on campus. As McGuckin states, bad driving or not adhering to on-campus traffic rules can be one of the biggest dangers to the students at large. So what are those bright illuminated red signs that warn us of an impending danger?  There are none. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t put our common sense to use.

For the students who dorm, Housing and Residential Life office and its staff members are a pillar support when it comes to the matters of safety and well-being. I sought the opportunity to speak to the head Residential Assistant, Nazneen Shaikh about the most ubiquitously reported incidents and she pointed out that irrespective of the magnitude of the crisis, each predicament is handled the same way.

“As an HRL staff member and HRA, the communication between the UPD and NYIT in my knowledge is pretty clear. When something needs to be brought to our attention, we have the necessary channels of communication to reach out to each and every NYIT dorming resident. However, if a student faces a situation that forges a threat to their safety, they can immediately approach any one of the HRL, as they will be safe in trained and capable hands of one of the staff members.”

As for students on the NYIT campus, we have to remember that this isn’t a gated campus. It is a conviction of the board, that a gate wouldn’t send out a good message to the locality of Old Westbury that we live in. however, this also increases the chances of someone who doesn’t belong to intrude our circle of community. So be vigilant of anyone who looks out of place. And take care of your belongings. At a campus as big as NYIT, things are bound to get lost from time to time, it is our responsibility to take care of them the best way we can.

One moment of negligence and someone can cadge your laptop or phone right from under your nose. So to be on guard is better than the consequential quetching and blaming.

To conclude, I’d like to send out a message to all my fellow students at NYIT for their safety, in the words of someone not many of you may know, “It is better to prevent and prepare, than repent and repair!

As for that prowler, he was never found or arrested. Some speculate that he scurried away from the premises in fear of being caught by the cops looking for him while others say he may still be in the vicinity of SUNY in wait of an opportunity.

And I…well, I will never look at the woods the same way again.

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