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When administrators and the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) joined forces to create a campus escort service a little more than a year ago, it had become clear that the campus was in need of safeguarding.
Indeed, by the time the Harvard University Campus Escort Program—or HUCEP, as it has come to be known—was actually implemented in March 2004, there had been eight indecent assaults in three months around Harvard Square.
And in December 2003, University Hall discovered that HUCEP’s precursor, a student-run outfit known as SafetyWalk, had been defunct for a large portion of the year without anyone knowing.
Plans for HUCEP were initiated in January by Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd and Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin.
Now, after the completion of its second semester in operation, administrators and HUPD say they are happy with HUCEP’s performance.
Although its usage has fallen since it first started, walkers and supervisors alike agree that HUCEP’s benefits reach far more than just those who receive nightly escorts.
“From my experience with it, especially during the time when it began—the time of the groper—I think it was something the campus needed, even if it was only a psychological effect,” says HUCEP walker Alejandro G. Ruiz ’05.
The “placebo effect,” as some have termed it, seems to be what administrators and walkers feel HUCEP contributes most to the community-at-large. According to HUPD spokesman Steven G. Catalano, although most nights will see only two escorts, when walkers patrol the campus in their recognizable neon yellow-green jackets, students feel safer just knowing they are out on the streets.
WALKING THE WALK
Although the program’s proponents have actively publicized HUCEP to the student body through freshman orientation programs and poster campaigns, many students are still unaware of its activities.
Generally, two pairs of walkers, hired by HUPD, will be on a shift each night, from 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, and 10:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
From the beginning of the academic year until Feb. 8, HUCEP provided 217 escorts.
Currently, the staff at HUCEP consists of 32 walkers, only five of which are female. Catalano explains that this imbalance may be due to an age gap on the staff.
“A lot of our walkers are freshmen, and we know that female freshmen just coming to the city may not feel as comfortable with their surroundings to do the escort service as males,” he says. “We need to do a better job at recruiting in the upper classes.”
Catalano says he still recognizes the importance of increasing the female proportion of the staff.
“We feel that some females may be more inclined to use the service if there were a male/female team,” he says. “If that’s a factor in someone’s decision, we want to increase the number of female walkers so they can use the service.”
Students can receive escorts by either calling the service’s extension (4-8237) or by flagging down a walker in the area.
Day-to-day usage of the service is fairly consistent. Although some nights can be heavier than others—six escorts in one night would be on the high end for this year—all seven days of the week are generally used evenly, with about two escorts per night.
As for who uses the service, not surprisingly, female users are vastly more common than male ones. But some suggest that men may benefit simply from knowing the walkers are patrolling at night.
“There’s this ancillary benefit to males who don’t call—for whatever reason they don’t call—that the walkers are out there,” says Catalano. “We strongly encourage all students and faculty to take the appropriate precautions.”
Overall, though, those involved in the program feel confident that it is serving its role effectively.
“We’re very pleased with the management of HUCEP and the collaboration we have with HUPD on this. We have never received one complaint here at the dean’s office about this program,” says Kidd. “I think that HUCEP has come a very long way.”
Still, HUCEP, like any other young program, is not without its kinks.
Some walkers complain that usage is just too low and cite lackluster advertisement as the main cause.
“I feel like the service has never been publicized as much as it should be, and so a lot of nights, very frequently, we don’t get any calls,” says one walker who asked to remain anonymous in order to preserve job security. “Honestly, walking on a Sunday night, you don’t see anybody out there. I’ve gone nights without even picking up any people at all.”
Kidd says that the program’s value does not diminish, even considering the few escorts given each night,
“I think the thing about HUCEP is that it will always be a low-usage program,” says Kidd. “But for those students who do use it, it’s an incredibly important program.”
In addition, McLoughlin says administrators have not received feedback about poor publicity.
“[That issue] hasn’t been brought to the safety committee by any of the eight students who sit on it,” says McLoughlin, who was instrumental in the creation of HUCEP last year. He adds that while it is easy for students to want more publicity, it is much more difficult to effectively execute that ideal.
Outside of publicity, one walker admits he and his colleagues don’t actively seek escorts as much as they should.
“There is a trend of people taking breaks that are longer than they should be,” says the anonymous walker. “Some people take more than others. I think people who have been doing it for a while, since they’ve been doing it for so long, they don’t take it as seriously as the younger ones do.”
This issue is of particular concern to HUPD, considering that, according to Catalano, there are roughly twice as many escorts initiated in the field as there are by phone request.
He says HUPD does not believe walkers take unnecessarily long breaks. Nevertheless, HUPD is taking that criticism seriously.
“We bring it up during orientation when they’re first hired and we also reiterate it every so often through the police department. It does concern us because the majority of our walks are not called in,” Catalano says. “Obviously, during inclement weather, that’s a different story, but we still expect them to be out walking and to have a visible presence on campus. We will address this issue again.”
As for back-alley talk of the program’s possible termination, Kidd, McLoughlin, and Catalano all emphatically deny any such consideration.
Although budget constraints may force a re-evaluation of every University-administered program, HUCEP is definitely not on the short list for cuts, according to Kidd.
“It’s always going to be a question of resources and where you place them, and if you place them for a small number of students or if you place them for a larger number of students,” Kidd says. “That’s what happens when you look at HUCEP.”
—Staff writer Eduardo E. Santacana can be reached at email@example.com.
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