As the countdown continues to this season’s first kickoff on Saturday, the University of Florida says it is making sure it is taking the necessary precautions to keep students safe during and after games.
But one program ended two weeks ago that was put in place after three unsolved assaults on the campus caused unease in the Gainesville community.
The University of Florida Police Department’s Walk Safe Student Escort Program was suspended this semester due to insufficient funds. The program, which provided volunteer escorts to students walking alone on campus, may be restored if or when the proper funds are obtained, said Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw.
The assailant in last year’s incidents is still out there, but even if he or she is caught, the university’s safety measures are here to stay, Day Shaw said.
In the meantime, students still have plenty of other ways to ensure they get home safely after football games, Day Shaw said.
The additions that were made to Later Gator and Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol (SNAP) services following the assaults will remain. If students must walk at night, they should stay in groups or find someone to walk with, she said.
“Every Gator counts,” Day Shaw said, “Take a minute to talk to those around you and make sure everybody’s got a safe way home.”
For Sarah Gaies, a 21-year-old UF health science senior, the assaults reminded her of the importance of taking precautions when it comes to safety, but they didn’t stop her from going to games. She now tries to avoid walking alone at night and stays off the phone so her attention is focused on her surroundings.
“You think it can’t happen to you,” Gaies said, “but it really could happen to anybody, so it’s always good to be careful.”
Day Shaw said that around campus, trees and bushes are regularly trimmed so that pathways are clear even when it’s dark, and Emergency Blue Light phones are monitored to make sure they are working properly. Building entrances are checked to ensure doors are locked at night. The university also boosted the amount of camera surveillance and outdoor lighting, she said.
UF Student Affairs regularly tweets out safety tips through the Twitter handle @UMatterWeCare.
Local police departments are also dispatched for student safety.
About 200 to 250 officers are positioned in and around campus during football games, UFPD Major Brad Barber said. Following the assaults, some of the officers were reassigned shifts to fit the safety needs of the campus.
Although he avoided specifics for security reasons, Barber said that officers are deployed in a manner that is determined in part by when the game occurs and whom the Gators are playing.
Come game day, students and local residents should be aware of the safety precautions included in the timely warnings issued by UFPD. In many cases, it is imperative to a successful arrest that any suspicious activity be reported to law enforcement immediately, Barber said.
If people feel they are in danger, they should never be embarrassed to attract attention and get help — they can utilize an Emergency Blue Light phone if one is nearby or phone apps like TapShield to contact law enforcement with just one tap, he said.
“If you see something, say something,” Barber said.