Editorial: Safe Walk Program

In the evenings, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus can become unusually quiet. A soft rustle of a tree limb or twig may trigger students to clench their keys tighter and walk faster.
UW-Platteville Campus Police hoped to alleviate some of those fears for students with the Safe Walk program, which uses student officers to escort students and staff anywhere within a two-block radius of campus. Last semester Safe Walk was updated to the Campus Security program, where student officers also lock doors and write citations.
While the idea of safety behind this program is valid, the program lacks the training and safety measures to make it truly effective.
According to Jason Williams, a staff member of Safe Walk, each shift is covered by two students, one male and one female. Student members are trained for two weeks where they learn to handle situations that might arise while walking students or staff across campus. Some of their training includes following a campus officer during rounds. The students are armed with a cell phone and a campus police radio. UW-Platteville police are aware of each student officer’s destination, and campus police are always available to escort students and staff when student officers are off duty.
The UW-Platteville website states, “Escorts will be identifiable by their official name tag and vest. The escorts will also be equipped with a cell phone for use in the event of the need for urgent assistance. Escorts are trained and undewent an extensive criminal background check as a part of their qualifications for this service.”
The website also offers general safety tips for anyone who makes the trek across campus alone. Safety tips vary from planning ahead to walking with friends to being aware of ones surroundings at all times.
According to campussafetymagazine.com, 25 percent of college women will experience a completed and/or attempted rape during their college career. With the percentage of assaults so high, it makes sense for a university to employ a program such as Safe Walk.
The issue then becomes how much training the students undergo to deal with dangerous situations and potential attackers. The student volunteers at UW-Platteville are trained to deal with the situation but are not trained in any type of defense. This means that if the student officer is able to call or radio for help, then disasters can be diverted; however, in a violent attack, the radio and phone might become useless.
Training student volunteers in self-defense or arming them with pepper spray would be more effective in protecting not only the escorted, but the officers themselves. Staying calm and handling a stressful and dangerous situation is important, but it does little good if an assailant attacks and disarms the student officer of the cell phone and the radio.
The Safe Walk program at UW-Platteville has staff and students’ best interests at heart, but more training of student officers is needed for the program to be effective.
Since the Safe Walk program gets little to no use (there have been no calls for escorts since Fall 2012), it makes more sense to have a campus police escort the student or staff member that calls for assistance. Campus police are armed and have the defense training that would actually be effective if a violent person decided to attack someone.