By Amy Badry
Safewalk, a University of Calgary volunteer service in operation since 1995, will be cutting its number of volunteers.
There are currently 70 student volunteers that walk students across campus to ensure university staff, students and faculty feel safe and secure. That number will drop to 26 by next fall. Each Safewalk team consists of one female and one male who escort individuals to any area on campus or within a 10-minute radius.
Safewalk is available to students from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Campus Security provides escorts for individuals when Safewalk is off duty.
According to Safewalk coordinator Joey Brocke, the service is to ensure people feel safe on campus in order to be productive and secure.
Brocke plans to decrease the Safewalk volunteer base by about two-thirds.
“The real reason behind it is to have people working more often so they feel a stronger connection to the program,” said Brocke. “Having it as a regular commitment would help decrease things like just forgetting about the shifts coming up.”
Currently, volunteers work three to four shifts a month. Decreasing the volunteer base would mean five to six shifts a month for each volunteer. Brocke will also be decreasing the hours in which volunteers are available to escort students and faculty across campus, ensuring there are volunteers during peak periods.
“When you look at the priorities of students on campus, something you volunteer for is going to be knocked down the ladder when you have three midterms coming up,” said Brocke. “If you tie in the monetary incentives to their commitment to the program, I think it will go a long way towards assuring their regular attendance.”
Safewalk provides volunteers with tuition discounts for participating in the program. Currently volunteers receive between $20 and $25 per shift.
“So at 26 volunteers, at about five or six shifts per month, we can pay them approximately $650 per semester provided they meet their commitment to the program,” said Brocke.
Cutting Safewalk’s volunteer base by over 40 volunteers will decrease the number of workers, but Brocke said he thinks the service’s visibility may improve.
“The difference between 70 and 26 is the number of mouths that talk about the program,” said Brocke. “Twenty-six really happy volunteers will be more effective than 70 volunteers that are not really enthusiastic.”
Safewalk volunteer and second-year archeology student Stephen Tousignant-Barns supported the changes.
“As long as we make sure the volunteers are being as visible as possible, I don’t think it will be a problem,” said Tousignant-Barns.
Brocke will address this issue by increasing volunteer responsibilities.
“Half of the time you have to be walking around,” said Brocke. “We will be more specific about where teams spend their time on shift, so a larger portion of campus is covered.”
Campus Security director Lanny Fritz thinks Brocke’s strategy will increase commitment to the program.
“We will see how it goes at the end of the year and we can make whatever adjustments we need for the following year,” said Fritz.
Students’ Union vice-president operations and finance James Delaney does not want the number of walks or hours Safewalk is available to decrease.
“As long as the service remains unchanged, it is up to them how they run the program,” said Delaney.
Safewalk has conducted about 325 walks this year. The last two years saw between 500 and 525 walks.
According to a 1999 article published in the Gauntlet, Safewalk conducted 1,500 walks in 1998.
Brocke thinks the reason for the decrease is the level of perceived safety on campus.
“There is a feeling of more security on campus,” said Brocke. “It is the kind of thing that goes in waves, the perception of security.”
A March 11 community advisory indicated the release of a sexual offender in Calgary. Brocke said walks in March tripled because of the advisory.
“It really demonstrates the fact that when there is a perception of risk our usership goes up,” he said.
Fritz said Safewalk provides a valuable role for the entire campus.
“If we didn’t have Safewalk available, Campus Security would be doing these escorts,” said Fritz. “We save on our human resources when we have the Safewalk students operating.”
Records indicated 92 per cent of Safewalk users last year were women. Seven per cent of users’ sex was unrecorded.
“Generally, when you look at the sort of crimes we are looking to avoid, it is assaults and sexual assaults, that sort of thing,” said Brocke. “A larger portion of them are committed against women.”
Fritz encouraged student to stay in well-populated areas and to walk with a buddy for increased security on campus.
“Wherever we have a lot of people around it is considered much safer,” said Fritz. “In other words, we call that natural surveillance, you’ve got the eyes and ears of members of the public.”