Closing gaps in campus security

In light of two recent, brazen crimes on and around campus (the September 25 robbery of a student in a University Center bathroom and the October 1 assault of two students cutting through the WQED parking lot), the Carnegie Mellon community should discuss how it can close certain gaps in its security practices.

The security of buildings on and off campus is inconsistent. The University Center and many academic buildings maintain very high safety standards 24 hours a day. They are well lit, and require Carnegie Mellon ID to enter after hours. As popular spots on campus, they are constantly occupied, if only by Facilities Management Services workers.

However, other buildings don’t follow this example. Margaret Morrison is open 24 hours a day, too, but the rotunda’s revolving doors are rarely locked. Design students are known to work irregular hours in their studios, and must often deal with the theft of their expensive supplies. While a missing drafting pencil isn’t headline news, petty larceny often precipitates more serious crimes.
If Margaret Morrison develops a reputation as an easy target, the problem could quickly escalate. We should secure all our buildings in the style of the University Center or Baker Hall.

Security in residence halls is a trickier situation. Most dormitories have round-the-clock desk attendants to look out for suspicious persons trying to enter the building, but attendants are often preoccupied with homework or other distractions. Moreover, most students, out of courtesy, will hold the door for people behind them, who enter the building without ever showing ID to the attendant.

Recent changes in desk attendance policy have improved this situation; instead of circulating around campus, attendants now have a “home desk” where they work exclusively. This allows them to become better acquainted with the individual students in a building and to more easily spot interlopers. However, this policy will only improve security if attendants vigilantly keep watch over who enters the building.

A third area to examine is outdoor spaces off campus where students might be vulnerable to crime. The shortcut from the Morewood Gardens parking lot to Fifth Avenue via WQED is a perfect example. Students traverse that path at all hours, yet it is secluded and features only an odd dotting of stepping-stones across the small ravine separating Morewood from WQED. In 2004, civil engineering students built a small bridge across the ravine for use during heavy rainfall. However, it’s situated at the end of the ravine and not the most direct path. If that bridge were more visible and thoughtfully placed, it would be much more useful.

Now that the Carnegie Mellon police force has moved its headquarters to Filmore Street, its beefed-up presence in east Oakland should help deter would-be criminals. However, there are several simple, concrete steps that we can take now to tighten security on campus: We can secure our academic buildings, be watchful in our residence halls, and improve conditions in highly traversed but poorly patrolled areas on Carnegie Mellon’s outdoor property.