Personal safety was the focus Oct. 2 when a group of University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) staff members traversed the campus and city streets with UMB police officers and Office of Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) leaders during the first of five University Tours scheduled for Tuesdays this October. (See schedule here.)
UMB Police Force Capt. Erik Pecha and Lt. Dennis Smith led the way, enlightening the employees on ways to avoid becoming a victim of crime and urging the use of services such as the Safe Walk/Safe Ride program, where uniformed officers accompany UMB students, staff, and faculty between campus sites when requested.
“I can’t walk next to you 24/7 and 365 days a year to make you feel safe,” Smith told the group. “The police forces does as much as it can, but we can’t have a cop on every corner of the campus. That’s not practical. In the end, you are responsible for your personal safety, but we can help you along the way.”
To that end, the UMB officers offered safety tips on the tour, which began at Lexington Street Garage, moved south on Pine Street to West Baltimore Street, then east to Greene Street, south to West Lombard Street, east to South Paca Street, and north to Lexington Market.
Perhaps the central message conveyed was: Be aware of your surroundings. The officers lamented the fact that too many people, with cellphone in hand or earphones on, are not paying attention to what’s happening around them as they navigate the campus.
“One thing that we preach all the time: no headphones or texting while you are walking,” Smith said. “Take your headphones off and pay attention to what’s going on around you. People who are looking to commit crime are watching to see who’s paying attention and who’s not. If you are oblivious to your situation because you are on your phone or have headphones on, you are a prime target.”
• If you feel uncomfortable on the street or think someone is following you, walk into any UMB building and seek out a security officer or attendant who can contact police immediately. “Don’t worry that you might offend someone by doing that,” said Pecha, who also holds the title of assistant chief. “You are not doing it because of any bias, you are doing it because you don’t feel safe.”
• Do not jaywalk. Instead, use the marked crosswalks, but never assume that just because you are in a crosswalk that you don’t have to pay attention to the vehicles. “You should take an extra moment and try to make eye contact with drivers before crossing,” Pecha said.
• The emergency blue light phones around campus and in garages are analog devices that call the police dispatcher, but if you use one, you can’t just hit the button and leave the site. You need to talk to the dispatcher and give them information about the emergency.
• Use a backpack to carry your belongings, and bring as few valuables to campus as possible. “With a backpack, you’ve got everything in there secure and two straps on your shoulders,” Smith said. “Most women carry their purse on their side, and a thief can give it a good yank and most likely it’s going to come out of your hands. … And if you don’t need something, don’t carry it with you. But also don’t leave it in your car and visible, because someone might break a window to get it.”
• When walking around the city, avoid alleys and other shortcuts; stay on streets that are well-lit and heavily traveled. This is an emphasis for Pecha. “Shortcuts are bad!” he said. “Everyone makes fun of me for repeating that, but it’s the truth. There’s no reward for taking a shortcut.”
• Use police services such as Safe Walk/Safe Ride — even if the distance between your destinations is short. “It’s a resource that we offer, so why not use it?” Pecha said (simply call 6-6882 on campus or 410-706-6882). “You are not putting us out in any way, shape, or form. That’s part of our job.”
The tour also offered suggestions on places to eat that you might not know about, like the School of Dentistry cafeteria or the snack bar in Health Sciences Research Facility I; pointed out the location of UMaryland Immediate Care on West Lombard Street for health care needs; and provided guidance on how to interact with the homeless and panhandlers.
The tour ended at Lexington Market, where Stacey Pack, marketing and communications manager for Baltimore Public Markets, pointed out the many culinary, produce, and shopping choices at the historic site, which is soon to be redeveloped. The market tour ended with a walk through Mem Sahib Indian Cuisine restaurant, a participant in the UMB Office of Community Engagement’s Local Food Connection.
The group then sat down for a Q&A session with the police officers and three PTS officials, including director Robert Milner, MS, CAPP.
Tony Green, manager, TDM and Transportation Services, discussed the UM shuttle, alternative transportation options, and electric vehicle services, while encouraging the group to follow PTS’ Twitter and Facebook accounts. Stacy Holmes, operations manager, talked about garage services such as flat tire assistance, battery jumps, and lockout help.
During the feedback session, one member of the UMB group, a new employee who has moved to Baltimore from New York, said that she appreciated the safety and security aspects of the tour and that she gained more familiarity with the campus’ landscape — which is what University Tours is all about.
“We began these tours about three years ago,” Pecha said, noting the need to educate those new to UMB or anyone who might be unfamiliar with an urban environment. “It’s not a historical tour, like, ‘Oh, there’s the School of Pharmacy, and there’s the School of Medicine.’ It’s more of a practical and social-type tour: ‘You can get coffee here. There’s a snack bar there. Don’t walk this way. Walk on this street.’
“It’s also a chance for students and staff to get to know us as human beings, and we can learn about them and learn from them as well.”
— Lou Cortina
Read about more safety tips from the UMB Police Force.