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Police expand safety services as campus grows (Sidebar)
April 23, 2018

Police expand safety services as campus grows (Sidebar)

Police expand safety services as campus grows (Sidebar)

University police officer Catrina Nañez speaks with communications student Melissa Ramos Thursday, Feb. 15, outside her evening COMM 2311, Media Writing class. Ramos had mistakenly pushed the emergency button on her SafeZone app, and Nañez responded. Photo by Laura Jordan

App links campus with police

Launched more than a year ago, a free mobile app connects users with University Police if they need emergency assistance on campus.

The SafeZone app, which is available on Android and Apple phones, requires users to register with their Texas A&M University-San Antonio email.

Once registered, the user can tap for help, first aid or emergency assistance. The app allows university officers to pinpoint a user’s location, University Police Chief Ronald Davidson said in an interview April 3.

“The unique thing about the SafeZone app is it works in conjunction with the officers in the field,” he said. “It doesn’t go through a third party. … It immediately goes out to the officers in the field to the mobile devices they have been issued. So there’s no lag time between dispatch being notified and the officers being notified. Plus, when they have the app up and running, it gives us real-time positioning on where [users are].”

Davidson recommended that users upload a clear photo of their face onto their SafeZone profile when they first download the app. This ensures police can effectively identify and locate individuals when they need help.

Users also can “check in” on the app and stay on the radar of campus police.

“Naturally, the police can’t be everywhere all the time,” Davidson said. “Due to our small size, if we were to get stacked with people wanting escorts to their car, especially at night — and I understand them wanting to do that — the SafeZone allows them to check in and we’re able to monitor them on there. And they have that alert right there, so if there is a problem, we can get to them immediately.”

Individuals must exercise caution when using the app to avoid sending false alarms to dispatch. Users can test the Emergency button to see if it works, but they must first call University Police’s nonemergency number, 210-784-1900, to inform dispatch of the test run to avoid confusion.

A Mesquite reporter who downloaded the app in her Media Writing class Feb. 15 accidentally called police as she was exploring the app’s features. She immediately hung up, but received a callback from non-emergency campus police dispatch within 10 seconds. Though the student said she was fine, the dispatcher asked her to remain on the phone until officers arrived. A university police officer arrived at the classroom in the Central Academic Building within about two minutes.

“We want to make sure they’re not under duress whenever they say, ‘Oh, everything’s fine, everything’s OK,’” Davidson said. “We want to make sure … someone’s not making them say they’re OK. We’re going to physically go and respond to each one of them.”
SafeZone was originally created by CriticalArc, an Australian company that piloted the app in 2012 at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, according to CriticalArc’s website.

The 35 institutions that use SafeZone include three in the United States: Chapman University in Irvine, California; the University of Colorado-Denver Anshutz Medical Campus; and Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma, according to the company’s website. CriticalArc opened a U.S. office in 2015.

Though CriticalArc responded to interview requests, the company did not schedule an interview by The Mesquite’s deadline.

Click here for links to download the SafeZone app on Apple or Google Play. Once it is downloaded, users must:

  • Enter their TAMUSA email address.
  • Select Texas A&M University-San Antonio
  • Enter their TAMUSA email address and password.
  • Enter their name and cell phone number.
  • Choose a photo to upload from their camera or gallery.
  • Accept the terms and conditions after reading them.
  • SafeZone then sends an email to users, who must click the link to verify their information. Then they click “Done” on the app itself.
  • In addition to the SafeZone app and the courtesy escorts, the university police department offers services including vehicle unlocks, found property, parking, blue light call boxes, medical help and classes on crime prevention.

Staying Safe

To stay safe on campus, students and others should remain alert and aware, police say.
University Police Chief Ronald Davidson offered these strategies:
People wearing earbuds should keep at least one out of their ear to maintain awareness of surrounding noise.

Always keep keys ready in hand when walking toward one’s vehicle or bus stop.
Notice the blue phones on campus; they are solar powered and ready to use in an emergency.

Don’t leave anything visible in the car. Even items that do not seem of value can be of value to someone else.

After dark, walk in well-lit areas and apply the buddy system. Avoid walking alone.
Jesus Guerra, a Texas A&M University-San Antonio housekeeper who works here at night, says he and his co-workers use the buddy system.

“We all go out as a team. We all go out together,” Guerra said.

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