A Safety Lesson For UH Students

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 22, 2008
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There is a segment of the University of Hawaii at Manoa student body that is very upset because of crimes being committed on campus.

Property thefts have increased, a few students have been assaulted and transportation devices have been stolen: cars, mopeds and bikes in particular. Some of the students are angry and blame a lack of campus security.

Before engaging in Blameology 101, the students should entertain the possibility that understanding criminal activity on a large university campus is a worthwhile lesson to learn that will help them later on in life, just like English, business math and economics.

This is the vaunted “teachable moment” most instructors are on constant lookout for, like taking a course in economics during a stock market crash.

It has been known for a long time that making education relevant gives much deeper meaning to a student in any subject. Criminal behavior, for instance, is a truly fascinating subject. It is so popular, many universities offer a degree in the subject, and several of the highest-rated shows on television is about criminal investigation - CSI.

Also interesting is the study of victims of criminal behavior. There are no degrees offered in this area, but I would submit that going to college on a large campus of 20,000 would expose students to the dilemma of crimes of opportunity. It is a little naive for students to think they should be immune to criminal activity just because they are paying for tuition, fees, books and student activity cards. The opposite is probably true.

There is likely not a more diverse collection of human beings than on a university campus, especially in Hawaii. There are people of all ages, gender, racial groups and national origins. To make it more interesting, many do not speak the same language.

If you add the facilities and the spacious nature of the university, the whole theory of security, or anything, is a formidable challenge. UH Manoa was designed to have the ambiance of a botanical garden. If you know even a little history of the university, none of the buildings looks like it was built by the same architect, and there are more back alleys and sidewalks than you can imagine.

Said another way, there are more bushes, hedges and blind spots for criminals to lay in wait than in most tropical jungles. Even a zoo is safer by far, because the dangerous animals are kept in pens under lock and key.

This violates one of the first criteria for establishing a secure facility: Control the flow of traffic in and out of the facility. The ultimate security can be viewed at a maximum security prison. Getting in and moving around the facility is difficult. Everyone has a uniform and guns are in plain view everywhere. There is an abundance of threatening signs and bold lines to make sure the traffic goes the right way at all times. There are bells and whistles, and inmates have to march in lines. They are told when to wake up, when they can talk and when to eat and when to sleep.

UH is the opposite of a maximum security facility. How many secure facilities can you think of that have major roads running through the property?

Let’s face it, there are just too many ways to get on the UH Manoa campus. It is a known fact that trespassers are most likely to commit a crime of opportunity. Not only on a university campus, but anywhere.

The suggestion here is that learning to protect yourself is pretty much your responsibility. It’s not something you can dump on someone else.

Of course, the university has to provide some visible evidence that it is concerned. But when it comes down to the campus, it almost has to be a collective effort, kind of like a neighborhood security watch program. All the high technology solutions in the world aren’t going to provide the kind of security some of these complaining students want.

About criminals: To give some evidence of what the students are seeking, the police just arrested an 18-year-old man in connection with the robbery of a security guard near the university. The 25-year old guard worked at the National Marine Fisheries Service Building on Dole Street (one of those streets that run through the campus). The security guard told police a man approached him from behind at about 3:30 a.m., choked him and threatened him with a knife. The suspect took all the victim’s belongings and fled.

If the criminals will rob a security guard, what does that tell you?

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