Police chief clarifies UI safety

The Daily Illini Editorial Board met with University Police Chief Barbara O’Connor and Deputy Chief Jeff Christensen to discuss campus crime and what measures the department is implementing to make the campus safer.

Daily Illini: How do the Urbana police, Champaign police and University (police) work together? How are patrols decided? I know that we’ve reported that, even with increased crime, increasing patrols wouldn’t (be) either a viable option or one that you want to do.

Barbara O’Connor: I want to clarify. I’m not saying that it’s not a viable option. I have said and will continue to say, look at the size of the jurisdiction we have to police … And to have you feel any sense of, we’ve increased our police response with 40-something officers, taking an administrator like me out of that number, another administrator, taking the detectives out, taking the sergeants out, taking the lieutenants out … and then with police vacancies, you’re down to a number into the 30s.

We’re exploring and continuing to do a lot of the things we’ve always done, but we’re also exploring other options. The camera system which we’ve announced this week that we’re sort of rolling that out into city streets is another option. That will be what I call a “force multiplier.” So, if we deploy a robbery detail and they’re sitting on the corner of Wright and Green, they can be in their car with a laptop with different images from these 10 other cameras.

DI: Expanding on what you mentioned before about thinking outside the box, is there anything other than the camera systems that are being installed that you guys are looking into or you’re thinking about?

O’CONNOR: It’s a good question because one of my personal missions is to integrate our security technologies on campus. We’re a very decentralized campus, and I think you guys know that. I’ve come on and said (that) when it comes to security, we can’t be decentralized. We really have to look at maximizing our opportunities. So, as an example, we have some buildings on campus that have card access. You come in, and you scan your card through the system. Right now, that system is not currently located in the police department. It is down at Facilities and Services.

I don’t know the answer to that either, but those systems need to come in here. They can be jointly functioning systems. It’s just a computer; it’s not that complicated. Some of it is a wiring issue, but we need to bring those systems into the PD, so when someone (enters through) card access, you’re going into check on a lab at 2 a.m. because you’re a student researcher, and you need to check something. If you do that now, we don’t know that. If that machine is in here, and it’s sitting in our dispatch center, and you card access in at 2 a.m. in the morning… that’s kind of unusual. It’s (the access image) going to pop up on a screen, and we would have access to that. Now that will allow us the opportunity to do a walk through that floor. It allows us the opportunity to confirm that you’re actually supposed to be in that building. It can be just a key, or it can be a security system, and if you’re using it just as a key, it’s a very expensive key. If you’re using it as a security system, then where should it reside? It should reside with the folks who are responsible for security. So, we’re working with F&S; to actually bring in the system that they control into the PD.

DI: Can we shift gears a little bit and talk about Unofficial? What are your thoughts? Do you have plans setting up? What’s the dangerous part of the day from your point of view?

Jeff Christensen: We’ve been through this rodeo numerous times, but we’ll have plans set up. It’ll be very much like last year. There will be plenty of police out, and those police are basically out there for everyone’s safety because we know it is a high-risk event and things can happen. Last year we saw a lot of the switch to the apartments, so we’ll be focusing a little more on that, but pretty much, like previous years. We got it out of the lecture halls, which is a good thing, and we’ll maintain our presence there.

DI: Can we just clarify, I believe last year that someone had said that the number of students being taken to the hospital decreased but the number of tickets had increased.

Christensen: Yeah I do know the number of transports decreased, (I’m) not really sure why. It might have been because it wasn’t in the bar environment where maybe you were more likely to wander off. You were at private parties, where, again, people are watching out for each other.

DI: I know last year there was a huge concern about the switch from bars to apartments. How do you think that that impacted things? Is it a really negative thing from your point-of-view or was it a better thing for that reason?

Christensen: It’s different. It transferred the issue, but yet we had a lot of problems in the bars. We didn’t have a lot of problems the last couple of years.

O’Connor: We you know we had problems later in the day. Clearly, I think I worked until one or two in the morning. We got busy much later than we did in previous years. Your access to alcohol is different. Someone buys a keg versus having to buy a draft at a bar.

I don’t think there’s a good answer to that question.

I think at the end of the day excessive drinking is not a healthy thing regardless of whether it’s happening at a bar or happening at an apartment.