External safety expert reviews off-campus safety efforts
An external review of The Ohio State University’s expanded approach to off-campus safety praised the progress made to date and offered additional enhancements for the university and city of Columbus to consider.
“The off-campus safety measures Ohio State has implemented have been impactful and equal to, or greater than, its peers,” said Paul Denton, an external safety expert from Security Risk Management Consultants (SRMC).
In September 2021, Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson directed the university’s public safety team to engage an external safety expert to examine the effectiveness of its expanded approach to off-campus safety in partnership with the city of Columbus. SRMC evaluated and reviewed the effectiveness of strategies, plans, programs, resources, tools and tactics utilized by both the university and the city of Columbus to enhance safety and overall perceptions in the off-campus neighborhoods. The consultant reviewed crime data and jurisdictional agreements, performed on-site examinations, and conducted interviews with both university and city stakeholders, including students and parents. SRMC looked at benchmarking with peer institutions and contacted subject matter experts.
A comprehensive list of recommendations was made as part of SRMC’s formal report. Focus areas include technology and services, staffing and strategy, and outreach and education:
Technology and Services
- Install permanent, fixed lights and surveillance cameras to replace mobile units.
- Explore License Plate Reader (LPR) cameras and other technology as an additional tool to assist law enforcement in reducing crime.
- Review and evaluate off-campus transportation options, including Lyft Ride Smart.
Staffing and Strategy
- Expand patrol, dispatch center and data personnel to support the adoption of additional technology and to further refine a data-driven, analytical approach to address crime problems.
- Test, evaluate and validate security resources and consider expanding non-sworn security staffing to cover the university’s expansion at University Square located at 15+HIGH.
- Organizationally align various security patrol functions under Ohio State’s Department of Public Safety, including oversight of all third-party patrols.
Outreach and Education
- Strengthen partnerships with the city of Columbus, Columbus Division of Police (CPD), local property owners and others to work on long-term neighborhood improvements, which may include enhanced site and building standards.
- Continue educating students on resources and behaviors and increase awareness of programs.
- Reevaluate off-campus safety notices and the sharing of crime information.
SRMC also recommended that the university avoid a broad expansion of its University Police jurisdiction, but better define roles and responsibility of OSUPD officers patrolling off-campus residential areas as part of joint patrol or crime interdiction programs.
“These valuable insights will be integrated into our ongoing efforts and commitments to enhance off-campus safety,” said Jay Kasey, senior vice president in Ohio State’s Office of Administration and Planning. “Work has already begun on many of these new recommendations, working in partnership with the city of Columbus.”
Items in progress, or completed, include:
- Installation of permanent lights to replace mobile fixtures in the off-campus area; the city of Columbus has already upgraded six of the 20 locations currently supported by mobile lighting with permanent LED light fixtures.
- Consolidation of security functions to report directly through the university’s Department of Public Safety, including Buckeye Block Watch.
- Planning phase is underway for installation of additional cameras on the Columbus campus using 2021 Ohio Department of Higher Education Campus Safety Grant Program funding.
- Expansion of Lyft Ride Smart to service the Short North and expanded program hours.
- Launching a pilot program with LPR technology to assist with identifying and apprehending suspects.
- Engaging in discussions with CPD to define jurisdictional oversight of University Square at 15+HIGH.
- Evaluating the method through which the university shares off-campus crime information with a target of replacing Neighborhood Safety Notices with a comprehensive method of sharing this information during spring semester.
Ohio State announced an additional investment of $2 million, per year, over the next decade for safety on and around campus, bringing the university’s annual safety and security budget to $35 million. According to CPD, off-campus crime statistics remain down in the University District across the categories of aggravated assault, residential burglary and robbery to individuals. Ohio State launched a Task Force on Community Safety and Well-Being in September 2020, and announced broad expansion of police and security patrols, lighting and cameras in August 2021.