UTM student Liza worries when she has a late class in the North Building. “It’s dark and isolated over there,” she says, “and if someone wanted to do something to me or to another student, well, it’s not a bad spot for that.”
She needn’t worry. Not just because UTM is a pretty safe place, but also because the UTM campus police have a program for preventing that kind of situation. Called WalkSafer, the program has been around since 2001 (although it’s not as well-known as campus police would like.)
“We do have a link to it on our site, but it is kind of buried under Safety Programs,” admit’s Sergeant Dario Cervoni, assistant manager and twenty-plus-year veteran of campus police. “We’re currently designing new posters about the program. We want all community members to know of it and use it if they need to.”
The WalkSafer program provides two-person teams that escort anyone who wishes to be escorted anywhere on campus. No explanations required. All students, visitors, or faculty members need to do is call 905-607-SAFE and inform the dispatcher where they would like to meet the WalkSafers and what their intended destination is. Walks can be booked up to one night in advance.
The service, which is provided by the Dean of Student Affairs and administered and delivered by campus police, operates Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. On Thursdays it runs from 9:30 to 2 a.m., the difference in schedule here primarily down to pub night events.
Not every Thursday night is pub night, he says, but historically thats been the case. “We’ve found that on pub nights the number of students who want company walking around campus increases.”
Gender is equally split between the ten students who comprise the program. This allows each two-person team to include one male and one female WalkSafer.
A typical shift begins with students reporting to the campus police office where they are provided with yellow vests, a cell phone, a police radio, and a flashlight. They then begin walking around campus, covering all of its territory while on the lookout for students who would hail them if need be.
“We’ve never had any violent incidents,” stresses WalkSafer and fourth-year biology student Marc Cerulli. His classmate and WalkSafer partner Tracy Stone concurs. “If we ever had to face a dangerous situation, we’d just call the campus police on our radio. They’d be there in a matter of seconds.”:
Asked why they chose to work as WalkSafers, Marc jestingly cites boredom, or lack thereof, as the main reason. “I think this is a lot more interesting than working at the library or in the food service,” he says. “We get two to three calls a night. It feels good to help people feel safe.”
Two to three calls a night may sound busy, but Sgt. Cervoni explains that use of the program has declined recently. “We want to do everything in our power to help the UTM community feel safe. We have over one hundred closed-circuit cameras and over seventy-five emergency phones around campus. We provide critical situation avoidance training sessions and were available twenty-four/ seven, so everyone who feels like using the WalkSafer program on weekends, or need us for whatever reason, can call us or just drop by.”
Liza might just do that. “To be honest, I didn’t know we had this service at our disposal,” she says with a relieved expression on her face. “Next time I’m creeped out by a shadow or afraid to walk late at night, I’ll be calling them for sure.”