Safety is often one of the most important factors parents weigh while determining how comfortable they are with sending their child to a potential university.
Jeffrey Bloodworth, Ph.D., and the director of Gannon University’s history department, said that future students, current students and the faculty at Gannon have the right to feel safe.
Gannon’s unique urban campus can be viewed as a negative in regard to feeling safe, but there are also some positives about the location.
Les Fetterman, Gannon’s assistant police director and a former lieutenant in the Erie Police department, said the local connection to alternate law enforcement is a benefit to the Gannon community.
“They are located within a block for assistance and handle all major crimes on campus due to their resources,” Fetterman said, “which allows our department to focus on the students and parents, and to give them some special attention that the Erie Police are not able to do with the volume of calls they handle.”
Fetterman added that the urban campus also allows other nearby agencies to get involved in emergency situations.
“Being a mid-sized city means you get the benefits of a larger city, but it is small enough that we all know each other well and on a personal level for immediate contact in the law enforcement community,” he said. “This includes city police, Sheriff’s Department, state and county probation and parole, FBI, U.S. Marshalls, state police and surrounding agencies.
“Most of those mentioned are armed and have offices downtown for fast response to Gannon in an emergency.”
Bloodworth said he didn’t notice much of an impact on campus from local Erie police.
“They don’t walk a beat – they just drive cars,” he said.
Fetterman said the proximity to other local law enforcement allows those agencies to be around campus without students even knowing.
“Law enforcement I just mentioned also cuts through campus and eats in our cafeteria, giving us a presence not felt elsewhere either,” Fetterman said.
The safety of Gannon’s campus has been disputed on popular websites claiming to give unbiased safety evaluations of possible future colleges for students. Colleges.niche.com is a website that offers a ranking system to potential students looking for the inside scoop on a desired university.
The website gave Gannon a “C- grade” in the health and safety portion of its ranking system. The site claims to mark schools based on three criteria: student survey responses, open-ended student review and statistical data.
The website was not alone in its findings and evaluation. American-school-search.com posted Gannon with a similar “C-” mark in its crime and safety report. The website stated its safety report for Gannon was based on the U.S. Department of Education 2012 public data sets for various categories of violent and non-violent crimes committed both on and off-campus over the last three years.
The only collegiate institute that American-school-search.com found more dangerous in the area than Gannon was Mercyhurst University. Both websites deemed that the urban campus and crime statistics made Gannon a “relatively unsafe” university to attend.
Despite the criticisms, Gannon officials said they are continuing the effort to improve the university’s staff training in all areas of possible emergencies.
Fetterman said he makes his officers go above and beyond the ordinary state mandated training.
“We upgraded our officers to be trained quarterly,” Fetterman said. “The state standard for a police officer is to only qualify with their weapon once a year, but I make these guys qualify four times a year.”
Bloodworth said there is violent crime in Erie, but Gannon is not in a violent area.
“But some people perceive that, which is silly,” he said.
Bloodworth added that there are some obvious changes that could be made to ensure the well-being of students and staff such as adding pass key locks to Gannon buildings.
“Once I was here on a Saturday working with my door closed and some guy opened my door and said, ‘Oh, whoops, I was looking for my wife’s office,’” Bloodworth said. “This is a person is who is a street urchin from State Street, so I called campus security and they found that he was breaking into people’s offices and stealing things. He had a knife on him.
“Palumbo’s doors are unlocked an insane amount of times – it’s too wide open.”
Fetterman said a major project was started this year to improve the safety in the Palumbo Center. He said classroom function locks were installed in all Palumbo classrooms to allow teachers the ability to lock the room from the inside – in case of an emergency.
Bloodworth said despite his isolated incident that he feels Gannon is a safe campus, and he doesn’t believe that there is a problem with crime.
“If we want to talk about safety, than we have to talk about how students can drink safely,” Bloodworth said. “You have lots of people that are 18 to 22, and you have lots of drinking.
“Young populations are more prone to crime than old populations.”
Kyle Hartl, a sophomore legal studies major and president of Alpha Phi Delta fraternity, said there is more that could be done at fraternity parties to ensure the safety of students in attendance.
Hartl proposed that an additional member of the RISK team – a group of sober fraternity members put in place to prevent incidents from happening at social events – could have a job similar to that of GUEST services, the Gannon University Escort Team. GUEST is an on-campus work study position set in place to walk home any Gannon student or staff member that would like to be accompanied to their dwelling or car.
Hartl said the additional RISK team member would have an important position.
“I think it would be a good idea to have a RISK team member that has the duty to make sure all people leaving the party have a group to walk home with after the shindig,” he said.
Kerry O’Connor, a sophomore biology major and a sister in Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, said she agreed with Hartl’s sentiment to add another RISK team position.
“Even if girls are not under the influence, they can be really easily taken advantage of if they are not paying attention, and most of the times they are not,” she said.
O’Connor said that she doesn’t always feel safe on Gannon’s campus, but explained that is the reality of living in a downtown area. She said she appreciated Gannon’s effort to put up a more extensive lighting system around campus and even off-campus.
Bloodworth said he agreed with O’Connor about the addition of more lights.
“It’s a good start,” Bloodworth said. “People feeling safe is probably more important than people actually being safe.”
Fetterman said Gannon is supportive of anything his department feels could better the safety and well-being of its students.
“If you want to go to an urban campus, Erie and Gannon is the perfect place because you have so many resources downtown that you can use,” he said, “But it’s also small enough that we get know all these people in these other agencies that can help us.”