Shadow of assault casts spotlight on campus safety

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Posted Wed, Aug 26, 2015

Auraria Campus Police made an arrest Aug. 12, 2015, after finding an outstanding warrent. They were led to the man and woman by another man who was reportedly drunk and stopping traffic on Colfax Avenue. Photo by Sara Hertwig

PUBLIC SAFETY: Auraria Campus Police made an arrest Aug. 12, 2015, after finding an outstanding warrent. They were led to the man and woman by another man who was reportedly drunk and stopping traffic on Colfax Avenue. [Photo by Sara Hertwig]

DENVER, Auraria Campus — In the wake of the May 9, attempted murder and sexual assault in the West Classroom Building, campus police are highly visible, and are urging students, staff and faculty to be vigilant and take more personal responsibility for their safety.

“From a law enforcement side, we have a pretty robust presence on campus,” explains Auraria Higher Education Center Chief of Staff Blaine Nickeson, M.S.

As for what’s missing, Blaine says, “We see so many students and staff not aware of their surroundings, earphones in [and] texting. Carry yourself with confidence and move with a purpose.”

Nickeson, who is also assistant vice president of Campus Relations, views the May 9, attack as more of a “one off,” and attributes increased stalking reports to changes in what the law now recognizes.

“In general, the campus has very low incidents of crimes on person,” Nickeson says.

Blaine Nickeson, Cheif of Staff at the Auraria Higher Education Center, says students need to be aware of their surroundings to increase their safety while on campus. Photo by Sara Hertwig

BE WARY: Blaine Nickeson, chief of staff at the Auraria Higher Education Center, says students need to be aware of their surroundings while on campus. [Photo: Sara Hertwig]

While most crimes on campus are related to theft, during May, June and July the Auraria Campus Police Department’s crime log shows (in addition to the West Classroom event), one incident of harassment and another harassment/stalking were reported.

In June, there was one report of stalking, fondling and stalking, and a campus warning given for indecent exposure. There were three more stalking incidents in July.

That robust presence Nickeson referred to includes a Patrol Division that operates on campus around the clock, 365 days a year. Auraria Campus Police Chief Michael Phibbs noted that in addition to patrol officers, the department utilizes neighborhood community officers (civilians trained in security) recognizable by their tan shirts and radios. These officers are assigned a “neighborhood” or section of campus to watch over. ACPD also relies on cameras to provide extra eyes on campus. Chief Phibbs estimates that there are about 200 cameras around Auraria.

“There’s always been some cameras, but we’re expanding the 10th Street corridor, monitoring big areas. We have not done anything on cameras inside,” Phibbs says.

Auraria Campus Police Chief Michael Phibbs, joined the department after a nation-wide search on Aug. 11, 2015.

TOP COP: CU graduate, Auraria Campus Police Chief Michael Phibbs  joined the department after a nation-wide search Aug. 14, 2014. [Photo: Sara Hertwig]

Phibbs noted that in order to add more cameras, ACPD would need to figure out how to monitor them. Adding more cameras is, “not on our priority list at the moment,” Phibbs says.

Neither is restricting access to classroom buildings, or the library, where another woman was allegedly stalked 15 minutes before the West Classroom assault. Nickeson points to the inconvenience that limiting access would cause on campus, and why some buildings have no choice but to remain public.

“The library is a federal repository,” Nickeson says.

While it remains an open campus, the Auraria community relies on its blue light emergency telephones found in parking lots and classrooms, to help people reach ACPD in an emergency. Nickeson says there are 75 poles in Auraria lots and hundreds throughout campus buildings.

You’ll typically see them bundled near the AED machines and fire extinguishers.

Phibbs says students should, “Be conscious of their environment, less attention to electronic devices. Be aware of when they arrive, and when they’re leaving when parking. Safety in numbers. Be mindful there are people lurking around campus looking for opportunity.”

James A. Holmes, a violent registered sex offender, and the man arrested in connection to the May attack, is believed to have been one of those people lurking back in April. Holmes is being investigated for the April 14, Sex Offense (Fondling) that took place 12:30-12:45 p.m. in the Central classroom. A timely warning was issued, and a description matching Holmes was listed in the ACPD log, but there was, “No sketch,” Hibbs says.

Cameras around Auraria Campus are fed back to police headquarters and monitored throughout the day. Photo by Sara Hertwig

HIGH TECH: Cameras around Auraria Campus are fed back to police headquarters and monitored throughout the day. [Photo: Sara Hertwig]

The Phoenix Center at Auraria, which serves students, staff and faculty of all three schools in matters related to interpersonal violence, has seen an increase in calls for their self-defense classes since the May attack.

Interim Director Sarah Berg says, “Last semester, of the three workshops we offered, two were filled and one had open slots. Now, all three classes for the fall are already full. I don’t think it should be anyone’s burden to protect themselves, but people are asking us for self-defense.”

The classes aren’t just about beating up a guy in a padded suit. Berg points out that most of the class is about setting boundaries, and asserting oneself, with the last hour of class reserved for actual fighting. The woman attacked in May told police that even though she was uneasy around Holmes, she was not wanting to be rude when he asked for help. That response was not surprising to Berg or Hibbs.

“We’re socialized to not be rude,” Berg says.

Hibbs adds, “Trust your instincts if you have an uneasy feeling. If you don’t want to seem rude say, ‘Let me get someone else and we’ll help you together.’”

Chris Sabin is approaching his 14th year with the Auraria Campus Police Department. The years have left Sabin with stories for every inch of grounds he patrols. Photo by Sara Hertwig

ON PATROL: Officer Chris Sabin is approaching his 14th year with the Auraria Campus Police Department. The years have left Sabin with stories for every inch of grounds he patrols. [Photo: Sara Hertwig]

Overcoming that socialization is something that Phoenix and ACPD are working on together.

“Auraria police are getting involved in our self-defense. Four Auraria police officers are going through our training,” Berg says.

In addition to self-defense, the center offers workshops on healthy relationships and bystander interventions. There is also an online training module in the works on interpersonal violence that is not required but encouraged.

“I think in a few years it will be expected,” Berg says.

For Cristine de la Luna, President of the MSU Denver Feminist Alliance, the expectation that people, particularly women, should have to invest in any of these measures, is seen as part of the problem, rather than the solution.

“This is how it’s perpetuated. This dominant patriarchal model. They see the female bodied student as being responsible for anything that happens to them. Let’s take the on us off the female bodied woman, and let’s shift the focus to the role of socially constructed roles of gender and hypermasculinity,” de la Luna says.

“We still have a big gap there – perpetrator education,” Berg says.

For now, students such as Metro University senior, Melissa Hoff aren’t waiting for that gap to close.

“I’ve felt really safe when there’s people around. Not as safe when there’s less people around, like late at night. I always lock the door, because my studio is near where it happened.”

Deanna Hirsch

About Deanna Hirsch

Deanna Hirsch is a Denver-area writer and Assistant News Editor at The Metropolitan newspaper.

View all posts by Deanna Hirsch

2 Responses to “Shadow of assault casts spotlight on campus safety”

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