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Students’ Perspectives to DPS-Reported Crimes Spring 2021

Image Courtesy of The Catholic University of America

By Anna Harvey

As soon as students move onto campus, one of the first events that the university shows to both parents and students during orientation is a panel discussion with the Department of Public Safety (DPS). During this discussion, DPS officials tell students and parents about the Department and discuss ways in which students can contact the department if they are in need of help.

Various security precautions that DPS provides to students include blue light poles, which include emergency phones, as well as organizing officers to walk around campus in shifts throughout the evening. DPS also provides escorts for students who need to move from one side of the campus to the other, which can be obtained by calling (202) 319-5111, the same number needed to call for any emergency.

Another facet of DPS is the promotion of Campus Safety Information, usually in the form of texts and emails, to both students and parents who sign up for alerts. This informs students of any safety hazards on campus, as well as reports of crimes within a certain radius of the campus. In the emails, DPS gives any clarifying details of the offense, a description of the subject if applicable, and the location of the crime. In most circumstances throughout the semester, Catholic University students are not the subject of the crimes in the area. At least once or twice a semester, however, students are impacted personally by crimes either on campus or in the surrounding area.

For instance, many students recall the tragic stabbing in the lower church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in December 2019. For many students, this assault occurred just outside two of the student dorms, Caldwell and Gibbons Halls, which caused many students to worry for their own safety.

Similarly, during the spring semester of 2021, several incidents occurred on campus, which have caused some students concern for their safety, in spite of the security measures that DPS enforces. 

On Friday March 5, students received the following email from DPS: “The Department of Public Safety (DPS) is actively investigating the actions of a suspicious person who was last seen walking around campus on Friday, March 5, 2021, at approximately 11 a.m., after causing disruptions in two locations on campus. Proactive measures are being taken to appropriately address this and any potential campus suspicious activity. This individual will be subject to arrest if he is again seen on campus.”

According to a personal account from a student who wished to remain anonymous, they were threatened by the “suspicious individual,” and the assailant chased them with a gun, which was left out of the above DPS’s report. 

“I was very disappointed with the incident and their response,” said the student. “Especially because the following morning, we received an email regarding a man who had been on campus the previous morning. Had I known that day, rather than a whole 24 hours later, I would have been more cautious and I would have gotten a ride home instead of walking home.” 

Some students felt uncomfortable that DPS left out the mention that the suspicious individual was armed. Sophomore psychology major Becky Roberts expressed her discomfort with the situation.

“Personally I am very upset with the lack of information on danger on this campus,” Roberts said. “The fact that there have been stabbings and threats of shootings and no one has known until days after is unacceptable; this is a small campus, [and] if something endangering safety occurs on campus, everyone should be informed.”

Sophomore engineering major Meg expressed similar sentiments, although she indicated that the lack of safety on campus is not as shocking to her.

“Since the other week I’ve second-guessed myself a couple times when I was going out alone at night,” Metzger said. “But campus isn’t any less or more safe because someone with a gun got onto campus. It just exposes what I already knew; campus is generally safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.”

The aforementioned anonymous student also expressed a similar concern with DPS’s methods with reporting crimes on campus.

“The incompetenc[e] of DPS’s reporting system is now compromising the safety of the students, which is unacceptable,” the student said. “After my incident, no alert was sent out to the campus community. It was like it didn’t even happen, and that the trauma that I went through did not matter. These issues need to be addressed immediately or more incidents will continue to occur.”

In the days following the email, multiple security officers were seen patrolling the campus, in order to ensure that the offending individual would not cause any further issues. 

Another student, freshman chemistry major Benjamin Iannuzzi, detailed an experience he and a group of students underwent while trying to find an emergency escort close to Catholic University on a late night. Iannuzzi explained that due to restricted metro hours, when they arrived at the Brookland platform, officers ushered them back onto the train, stating that the stop was currently a crime scene, and they would have to go onto Fort Totten. When the group arrived at Fort Totten, which is a seven-minute drive from Catholic University, they were stranded at the metro station, since they had boarded the last train for the evening. 

Iannuzzi and another student from the group, Alex Harvey, both recounted that they called DPS to explain the situation and arrange for an escort but were told that they could not receive one. While trying to organize an Uber for the entire group, Iannuzzi, Harvey, and the other students were approached by hostile persons in the area.

“I normally feel safe on campus because I normally travel in groups at night,” Iannuzzi said, “however, DPS does not contribute to my feeling of safety, because they failed to pick us up from a dangerous area near campus when we needed it most.”

The second significant security concern on campus came in an email titled “Thefts on Campus” on March 17: “The Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) are actively investigating two thefts which occurred over the course of a month, and within common areas inside of Caldwell Hall. The latest theft included a set of car keys which led to a stolen white Toyota Corolla, on Sunday, March 14, 2021.”

Students are told as soon as they arrive at CUA never to leave their belongings (laptop, phone, backpack) out in common areas. Additionally, the concept of two robberies in a short period of time, one of which involved a stolen car, likewise caused students to gain awareness that some areas of campus that are open to the public are not safe places to temporarily store their belongings.

In reflecting on how to approach the concept of personal safety on campus, Metzger acknowledges both room for improvement as well as the realities of living on a city college campus.

“So I’m not going to live in fear but I’m also not going to be careless,” Metzger said. “It’s all about balance. Knowledge is power so I’m going to remind myself and others of campus resources like DPS and use this experience to learn.”

For more information on safety measures and safety guidelines provided by DPS, please visit their website HERE. If you are in an uncomfortable situation and need to report any crimes, suspicious activity, or suspicious persons, contact the DPS dispatcher in Leahy Hall by calling (202) 319-5111.

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