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Safety 101: Don't forget what McGruff teaches

Illustration by Mike Padilla
By Dillon Fishman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, March 11, 2005
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Last October, serial rapist James Allen Selby was convicted of sexually assaulting several Tucson women and a teenage girl in their homes. A number of Selby's attacks happened right here in the UA area.

Two weeks ago, the University of Arizona Police Department issued a Campus Alert, warning students that several burglaries and sexual assaults have again occurred near the UA.

In other words, students beware. Rapists still loom about campus. The UA area isn't a crime-free bubble.

Dillon Fishman

I recently spoke with UAPD spokesman Sgt. Eugene Mejia about safety and what students can do to help prevent assaults, rape, and other crimes around the UA.

According to Mejia, many students aren't doing their part. In fact, he opined that we could reduce crime by about 50 percent through basic measures such as always locking our doors and windows, keeping our valuables hidden from sight in our cars and never leaving backpacks, laptops or purses unattended.

This is no-brainer advice. We've heard this stuff about a million times, since the days when that annoying dog in the trench coat, McGruff, urged us as children to "take a bite out of crime."

But a multitude of students still fail to heed the most basic warnings. For example, laptops and bicycles are frequently unlocked or improperly locked and left unwatched. And few students have taken advantage of UAPD's sale of steering wheel locks, which cost only $10. Sgt. Mejia urges students to buy one now.

Additionally, students have another important role to play: acting as the eyes and ears of the police. In recent months, UAPD has issued commendations to several students for providing information leading to the arrest of criminals.

I was surprised to learn from Mejia how many free or inexpensive safety programs are offered to students - from self-defense classes by the OASIS Program to SafeRide to free police lectures about crime prevention.

As we talked, Mejia showed me current reports of laptop, backpack and bicycle thefts in locations throughout the UA - especially in and around the libraries and the Student Union Memorial Center. Students commonly offered similarly lame excuses: "I just left for a minute; but when I got back, it was gone."

Next, I decided to do a little test to see if students at the UA are really as lax as they sounded. I walked over to the largest student residence hall, Coronado, at noon last Friday. I pulled on the handle of the glass front door; it was locked. I waited fewer than 10 seconds, and a woman wearing oversized sunglasses smiled and held the door open for me as she exited the building. I walked in, spotting the elevators to the left of the front desk.

The student attendant, seated behind the desk, didn't even look up from his book. He intently scribbled some notes.

I took the elevator to the second floor, got off and started walking around the halls. I counted three doors ajar - wide open - and tested several doorknobs as I walked by. A couple of them turned, meaning that the rooms were unlocked.

As I passed a community study room in the center of the floor, I noticed an unattended laptop. No one was anywhere around. I thought about picking up the laptop and walking away, just to see if anyone might notice. But then I decided against it - I've already got a Dell.

After I had walked around the floor, I saw a girl enter the community study room, oblivious to my thoughts of pilfering her vulnerable laptop.

I repeated this process on the third, fifth, seventh and ninth floors of Coronado. On each floor, I found three or more doors ajar or propped partially open.

Come on, people. A criminal could hide in any of those rooms until an unsuspecting student returned. Like a hungry wolf attacking a helpless lamb, a student could easily be assaulted or killed.

And why even tempt someone to walk off with a laptop, wallet or backpack? As the saying goes, locked doors keep honest people honest.

Mejia mentioned that simple protections - such as traveling in groups, keeping homes and yards well lit, and staying sober enough to spot potential predators - drastically reduce one's chances of becoming a victim.

Like any big university in a relatively large city, the UA will always have crime. But students can do a much better job of helping UAPD to prevent crime by staying alert and always taking simple safety precautions. Let's not risk becoming the next victim.

Students can keep themselves safe and informed by regularly visiting UAPD's Web site, which contains campus alerts, crime statistics and information about community outreach programs.

Go check out the site today: Forewarned is forearmed.

Dillon Fishman is a third-year law student. He can be reached at

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