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The Blue & Gray Press | October 18, 2018

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Escort Service use Lower on Weekends

Despite state-wide budget cuts, UMW officials have placed a prominent focus on improving the student escort service with increases in the program’s budget.

According to Executive Vice President Rick Hurley and Paul Messplay, executive director of budget and financial analysis, recent measures to improve the service have included a $20,000 purchase of several golf carts, a $12,000 budget adjustment for student wages in the Escort Program and increased promotion of the service through student government and Residence Life.

“Last year’s assault in the parking deck really increased attention to students that they are vulnerable,” Hurley said. “It really brought home the fact that this could happen here.”

The school created the Eagle Patrol two years ago to emphasize the presence of student employees in the Police Department.  The Patrol currently provides an escort service on foot, by golf cart or in a public safety vehicle for students nightly from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.

According to Susan Knick, assistant vice president for public safety and community services, the escort service only operates within the campus boundaries and does not transport students to and from other establishments.

“This is a safety escort service and not an alternate means of transportation,” Knick said.  “While we assist students who have temporary medical needs, the safety escort is meant to provide assistance when a student feels unsafe moving about campus.”

The service will escort intoxicated students, but those students will be subject to charges of public drunkenness, according to Knick.

Since the sexual assault at the parking garage last October, the safety escort service has been growing differently than other universities with similar enrollment to UMW.

The police department at Christopher Newport University, which has provided a formalized escort service since 2001, also limits their service to the school’s campus and subjects intoxicated students to charges of public drunkenness.

However, according to CNU Lieutenant Scott Austin, the service is strictly a walking program, and no money has yet been appropriated in the school’s budget to improve the escort program.  All of the CNU police department’s employees conduct the escort service as part of their normal duties while on shift, Austin said.

Unlike UMW and CNU, Longwood University’s student escort program is run entirely separate from the police department.  A school-sponsored club of nine volunteers known as the “Nightwalkers” have been providing escorts for students since 1996.

The escort service is limited to the campus grounds, but the Nightwalkers will escort intoxicated students without penalty  According to Stacy McCoy, the club’s secretary, intoxicated students make up the majority of the club’s escorts on the weekends.

“We encourage intoxicated students to use the service for obvious safety reasons,” McCoy said.  “And, if they’re with us, they’re less likely to get in trouble with the police.”

McCoy estimates that the Nightwalkers, who work from dusk until midnight during the week and from dusk until 2 a.m. on the weekends, escort about five students per night on weekends and no more than one or two on the weekdays.

Hurley, who worked at Longwood for 15 years before joining the administration of UMW, said that UMW has no plans to institute a similar policy.

“A culture has developed [at Longwood] where [the students] begin to see the service as just a safe ride back to school,” Hurley said.
CNU Police Lieutenant Austin reports that the  number of escorts at CNU decreases on the weekend.

Similarly, UMW’s student-run Eagle Patrol, in cooperation with the police department, escorts more students during the week than on the weekend.

According to Torre Meringolo, vice president for advancement and university relations, the service, which now employs six students employees, escorts around five to eight students per weekday night and about one to two students per weekend night.   On hours when Eagle Patrol is off-duty, or before 6 p.m.,  about five to eight students are typically escorted each day by university police, usually for handicap reasons.

Student reaction to the newly-improved service at UMW has been mostly positive.

Junior Ali Coleman has used the service four or five times, particularly after the sexual assault last October.  Coleman had an off-campus waitressing job and would call for an escort to her dorm in Westmoreland from the parking garage when she returned around 1 a.m.

“The longest I’ve ever had to wait was 10 or 15 minutes,” Coleman said of her most recent experience last semester.  “The drivers are always really friendly too.”

Just two weekends ago, senior Madelyn Crowell and junior Andrew Kada requested the service from the parking garage.

“It took about 30 minutes for the police to show up, but they were incredibly nice and friendly when they arrived,” Crowell said.

At press time, Knick was unable to comment on specific incidents.