Taylor University Police Chief Jeff Wallace shares tips for safety on and off campus
By Katherine Yeager | Echo
From the cornfields to the city, Taylor students travel beyond campus for conferences, practicums and pick-a-dates. A firm knowledge and practice of street smarts comes into play no matter where students may find themselves. Taylor University Police Chief Jeff Wallace shares ideas for staying safe in every setting.
Wallace often sees confusion among students who think they can only call the campus police office if they feel unsafe or face an emergency. In case of an emergency, according to Wallace, dialing 911 from campus will connect students with the Taylor police.
“Strength is in the awareness of the community,” Wallace said. “Students are pretty keen on knowing what and who are out of place. Part of that means being aware.” This awareness is known as situational awareness. Wallace reminds students not to assume that someone else will call in an emergency situation.
Residence hall safety extends beyond the front doors, affecting the ground itself outside each dorm. Visibility around building entrances increases as bushes and trees are cut. Wallace emphasized the importance of not propping doors open. “Propping open a door, even if it’s done innocently, really opens up that residence hall to people wandering in, innocent or otherwise,” Wallace said.
If students leave for the day or the weekend, Wallace encouraged them to lock windows and doors. Theft, according to Wallace, is a crime of convenience. When it does happen on campus, it happens when valuables are placed in plain sight. If valuables are hidden, the opportunity for theft diminishes.
“I know there’s a certain comfort level on wings or floors, and I don’t want to change that; that’s special to Taylor,” Wallace said. “I want everyone to feel safe, but I don’t want them to lose their awareness.”
“If you’re off campus visiting somebody or just need a ride back to the dorm, don’t hesitate to call us,” Wallace said. While a Taylor officer cannot venture too far from campus, Wallace emphasizes that anytime students need help, they should always call the police department. If a student needs a ride to campus and is farther away, the campus police can work with residence life and student development to arrange rides for assistance.
Wallace rarely sees car break-ins via smashed windows. However, break-ins do occasionally occur in unlocked cars. During the fall semester, sophomores Emma Wagoner and Maddie Prince found a long stick wedged from Prince’s car horn to the car seat. After removing the stick and leaving it in the Olson parking lot, Wagoner and Prince drove away. Nothing was taken from Prince’s car. The next day, Wagoner went to her car and found the same stick wedged between her own car horn and car seat. She didn’t think much of it, until she tried to use her car horn. It was silent. Prince tried to use her car horn. It made no sound. The stick was used to drain the batteries of both student’s car horns. Yet, according to Wagoner, neither she nor Prince ever heard the horns blare. Wagoner said they reported the incidents to Wallace but decided not to investigate the incident further. Wagoner decided to use the stick for a staff as part of her costume for Silent Night.
According to Wallace, car break-ins typically occur based upon convenience. “If there are 10 cars in a row and each one has something nice sitting on the seat and (criminals are) checking door handles and there’s one that’s not locked, that’s the one they’re going to go for,” Wallace said.
To prevent car break-ins, Wallace suggested keeping vehicles locked with valuables hidden, whether students are on or off campus. Wallace encourages students to look into their cars before getting inside. Chances of an unwelcome visitor (or an unwelcome stick) are diminished if the doors are locked, but Wallace encouraged students to still be aware of their surroundings.
Wallace sees phones as either a safety tool or deterrent. Personal safety is hindered as individuals look at phones when crossing the street. However, carrying a phone provides access to dial 911 anywhere. According to Wallace, a 911 call can be placed even if the phone lacks cell signal or data.
Wallace encourages all students to equip their vehicles with emergency kits that include roadside lights, reflectors and jumper cables. The main concern, Wallace believes, is visibility when on the side of the road. Wallace also encourages students to have a jumper box, a battery that stores enough energy to jump your car without a stranger’s help, on hand so that, in an emergency, they will not have to rely on a stranger.
In the case of a breakdown, Wallace encourages students to try and pull off in a well-lit location off the road and call 911 before calling roadside services like AAA.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t still call AAA and obviously use it, especially if you’re paying for it, but call 911 because law enforcement will come out and wait on the roadside with you,” Wallace said.
Wallace encourages students to park in well-lit areas and have their keys ready when returning to their cars after exiting a store or any previous location. If something feels unsafe, he encourages students to return to their previous location and leave among a larger group of people. Students should hold themselves with confidence to decrease targetability.
“Somebody who wants to steal your purse or get your car keys or something like that (are) going to want to find the person who’s distracted or not paying attention,” Wallace said. “The two things they don’t want (are) resistance and somebody to identify them.”
Driving and weather conditions
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) websites warn drivers of potential hazards prior to traveling in adverse weather conditions or encountering roadblocks. In winter, the services issue three levels of advisories: the first level alerts drivers to be careful on roadways, the second cautions drivers to avoid travel and the third warns drivers not to drive or else risk receiving a citation.
Apart from weather apps, students are encouraged to call campus police if concerned about traveling in adverse weather conditions. Campus police officers remain in touch with local law enforcement that monitors conditions such as tornadic activity. Wallace believes the weather warnings accurately address ongoing travel conditions.
Wallace urges students on the road during a storm to pull off the road into a well-lit underpass or gas station when visibility is impaired and wait until the storm passes over.
Running and biking
Wallace encourages runners and bikers to wear reflective or light-colored clothing to reduce the risk of being hit on narrow, dark country roads. He also discourages running alone at night. Wallace urges students to run with friends, take their cell phone and inform other friends where they are going.
“Maybe I’m saying that because I’m a dad,” Wallace said. “Letting someone know, ‘Hey, I’m heading down to Indy and I’ll be back in a few hours,’; that’s just courtesy. It’s part of being a community. It’s part of caring for one another well.”
Additional safety measures:
For nearly 10 years, Wallace has led self-defense classes to inform students of simple, practical techniques to increase personal safety on and off campus. While mostly female students attend the classes, Wallace says male students have taken the courses as well. He hopes the course will increase situational awareness and personal safety.
“We’re not trying to make everybody experts,” Wallace said. “We’re not trying to champion cage fighters. We’re giving them options. It’s about giving them knowledge and empowering them to be more confident. That’s one of the first lines in defense: just be more confident.”
The courses target individual strengths, acknowledging different builds and comfort levels. Wallace believe participants will identify with something out of the course to take with them at Taylor and at home.
Classes are primarily set up by students, especially PAs. Wallace will schedule two-hour evening courses upon request.
“It’s kind of a serious topic, but if you can make it fun and do it with your friends, it’ll make it stick,” Wallace said. “We want to make it about providing safety, caring for one another well and make it fun.”
Some universities have installed “Code Blue Phones” around campuses for 24/7 emergency use. While Taylor has not installed such phones, Wallace says there is talk of possibly installing them in the future.
“(T)he reason why we don’t have (Code Blue Phones) yet is we have little vestibules that are open in multiple places around campus 24 hours,” Wallace said.
When buildings are locked, vestibules between sets of external doors, Wallace explained, remain unlocked with accessible phones, such as in the Campus Center. Campus Police is working to make these areas more visible by installing either blue poles or lighted signs.
If installed, Code Blue Phones would most likely be paid for by Taylor. “We’re very aware of and very conscious of not passing cost onto students,” Wallace said.
“I really want to push situational awareness,” Wallace said. “It’s how we are responsible for each other and to each other, and it’s how we care for each other well.”