A week ago, making a trek across the University of Florida campus wasn’t much of an issue for most UF students. But after a recent string of similar assaults on and near the UF campus, many students are left on edge.
“Now as soon as it falls dark, I get a little worried because Gainesville has such a problem with any kind of crime,” said Maggie Bassetti, a UF student.
Local law enforcement have increased street patrols, but simply “can’t keep everyone safe,” said UFPD Captain Jeff Holcomb.
To remedy this, officers are also encouraging students to avoid walking alone at night by taking the bus, using SNAP or walking in groups. While these options work well for many, countless UF students may still end up walking alone at night.
To prevent this from happening, the University of Florida Police Department has teamed up with various student organizations, the most recent being the UF Interfraternity Council, to create the Walk Safe Student Escort Program. The service is staffed by student volunteers, who partner up to patrol campus for students in need of a walking buddy.
The program launched on Sept. 8 and while it’s estimated to continue for at least several weeks, “it’s just too early to tell [how long it will run],” Holcomb said.
In its first two nights alone, Walk Safe volunteers estimate that they’ve escorted over 100 students across the UF campus. Those same volunteers believe the “built-in buddy system” shows just how far the Gator community reaches.
“I just want to show that UF students are there for each other and we’re all Gators here,” Walk Safe volunteer Ryan Wolis said.
Many of the students who have heard about the program agree.
“I think it’s a great idea that there are people who actually show the initiative to help. That shows that at UF you just don’t go here for [an education], but there’s actually a community here,” UF Student Heiu Ngyeun said.
Students who need an escort may approach a pair of Walk Safe volunteers on campus and ask for a walking escort to an on-campus location or someone to stay with until their transportation arrives. Official Walk Safe volunteers will wear brightly colored vests, carry a UFPD volunteer card and travel in pairs. Escorts are usually stationed at Library West, the Reitz Union and Marston Science Library.
Students may also call the Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol (SNAP) at 392-7672 for an escort. Callers will be asked to provide their full name, pickup location, destination and the size of their group. The service currently runs from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m.
Volunteers who are interested in participating as an escort in the Walk Safe Student Escort Program must be a current UF student and a member of a registered student organization.