New Era of Campus Safety Begins With Camelback Hall Communications Center
Story by Michael Ferraresi
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Summer is slow on GCU’s campus, especially with few students to keep an eye on. But Jason Heil knows that will change in a few weeks.
By late August, with several thousand students around daily, Heil and his fellow GCU public safety officers could be busier than ever before.
“During the daytime, it’s pretty much just helping people with door openings and just being seen,” said Heil, referring to the universal public-safety maxim of increased visibility of uniformed officers being a primary deterrent to crime.
Heil, 37, served Flagstaff Police in his hometown before moving to Phoenix and joining GCU four years ago. He serves as a field-training officer and will teach new hires joining the campus force by this fall.
Heil said policing GCU is more pleasant than patrolling around Northern Arizona University in his hometown. He said students here are rarely a problem. Routine calls include the occasional vehicle burglary, alcohol in dorm rooms, fights — similar to any college campus.
“Compared to another university this size, it’s a drop in the bucket,” he said. “Everyone here is so much easier to deal with.”
The campus public safety department moves this week to the new Camelback Hall, shifting out of its aging digs in Building 9 on the west side of campus. The new office includes a communications center that will serve as a hub for emergency dispatch and camera surveillance, marking a shift into a new era for GCU campus safety.
This fall also will bring an added emphasis on guarding entry points to campus, on training resident directors to keep students safer in residence halls, and on holding motorists accountable by enforcing parking violations on a campus where spaces are limited.
Campus safety upgrades or policy changes this fall include:
Adding more officers
GCU’s public safety department will have 27 total staff by August, which includes public safety officers assigned to the main campus. One officer is assigned to each of the Tempe and Peoria offices. Other officers are dedicated to residence halls and keeping student residents safe from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.
Public Safety Director Henry Griffin said the plan is to hire and train more officers in phases through the fall. Like existing officers, many of the new hires will have prior law enforcement, military or corrections experience, Griffin said.
Text message alert system
GCU will automatically subscribe students to a new text message system that will provide emergency texts in the event of a major disturbance on campus. Students will have the option to opt out or add news, events and sports alerts to their phones.
“Just as they opt in, they can choose to opt out,” Griffin said. “But long-term, as big as we’re getting, we’re going to have to look at a more advanced way to get notifications out rather than relying on people to volunteer to get it.”
Griffin said he and other public-safety experts are looking at other technology to ensure that emergency notifications get to staff, faculty and others on campus in the event of an emergency.
Four or more dispatchers will be hired to handle calls from the residence halls and the blue emergency call boxes around campus. That role previously was managed by Securitas guards at the main booth at the 33rd Avenue entrance.
“It’s really become too busy with all of our guards stopping everyone and talking to everyone … we didn’t want to run the risk of missing any emergency calls,” said Rich Oesterle, assistant director of campus development, who oversees public safety.
A pair of parking-enforcement officers, armed with handheld devices with photo capability, will roam the campus beginning in August to issue citations to motorists who violate the campus parking agreement. Fines range from $35 for parking in the wrong zone to $200 for removing or tampering with a wheel-lock device.
Planning for cameras
GCU has cameras fixed on the Jumbotron digital message boards at 33rd Avenue and Camelback Road, at the Student Rec Center and other buildings around campus – but there are plans to add more. Before any major surveillance overhaul, though, campus staff are vetting technology vendors and planning to hire officers dedicated to monitoring digital video.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.