Despite feeling unsafe, few use campus escort service

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the third part in a three-part series examining students’ feelings on campus safety.

Andy Steinke

It’s late at night. You’re walking back to your dorm room after hanging out with friends at a party off campus. You’re all alone when a group starts walking behind you, whispering. Do you feel safe?

For many, it would be a nerve-racking experience, but it’s not one that students should ever have to encounter.

The University Police Department offers free escorts to anyone near the University’s campuses through its Security Monitor Program.

Last month, more than 25 percent of students who responded to The Minnesota Daily’s Safety and Security Survey said they thought the campus was becoming more dangerous, and 47 percent said they didn’t feel safe walking alone on campus at night.

Yet only 9 percent said they had taken advantage of the campus escort service, which works overnight hours.

A uniformed escort will walk with a student wherever they want to go near campus, and can usually get to a location within 10 minutes of being called.

Program manager Ben Schnabel said there are many reasons why he thinks people don’t use the escort service more often.

“Some people are concerned that they are bothering people when they take escorts,” he said. “What they don’t understand is that (the escorts) are already walking around in the cold by themselves. They would much rather take an escort and talk with somebody to break up the monotony.”

Schnabel said he thinks many men don’t use the service because there is a stigma that they aren’t tough if they use the service.

Communications sophomore Will Holland, a security monitor, worked a zone shift last semester that included escorting people around campus. He said he primarily received calls to escort women.

Only 38 percent of female respondents to the Daily’s survey said they walk alone on campus at night. 75 percent of men, however, said they walk alone on campus at night.

A typical eight-hour shift for a campus escort would include three to five calls, Holland said.

The busiest time of the year, Schnabel said, is weeknights during the fall. They will receive about 20 to 30 calls per night during that time, with an increase in calls for service after crime alerts are issued by the University Police Department.

Those calls would be split up between five and 15 monitors, depending on the time of the night. After 5 p.m., more monitors are added every one to two hours until 9 p.m.

The relatively small number of calls doesn’t make for many escorts on a nightly basis.

“I would say the amount of students who use it is under what it should be,” Schnabel said.

For a program that receives 20 to 30 calls per night, its budget is still in excess of $330,000, according to Julie Gfrerer in the University police payroll department.

However, some of that money is also used for student dispatchers, training and full-time managers.

But Schnabel said he thinks the program is still cost-effective, and a necessary program for the University to have.

“When they aren’t taking escorts, they are still checking doors,” he said. “They never sit idly.”