Lehigh, Bethlehem team up to ensure student safety off-campus

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The long-standing relationship between Lehigh University and the City of Bethlehem is entering a new phase as it works to expand on- and off-campus safety initiatives.

To provide a safe environment on campus, Lehigh offers several services to students, including walking escorts; police bike patrols; and Take a Ride Around Campus Safely (TRACS), a late-night transportation system, according to the university’s 2014 Annual Security Report and Escort Map. Automatic locking doors, alarm systems and campus security officers are some of the other safety benefits that accompany on-campus living.

Those living in off-campus residences, however, have additional responsibilities when it comes to abiding by the ordinances that both students and other community members share as Bethlehem residents.

Students, faculty and staff were invited to attend a press conference on Aug. 26 held by Lehigh University’s Interim President Kevin Clayton, in collaboration with Lehigh University’s Chief of Police Edward Shupp, Mayor of Bethlehem Robert Donchez and Bethlehem Chief of Police Mark DiLuzio. The conference aimed to clarify the institutions’ focus on safety, recognize resources available in the community and remind students of the role they play as residents in the city.

“When you’re here at Lehigh, you’re a citizen of Bethlehem,” DiLuzio said. “So services we do, we do for you.”

Lehigh and Bethlehem boast an established partnership, which they continue to grow in an effort to maintain a safe environment for students and Bethlehem residents alike.

“Though serving somewhat different roles, the forces work closely together to ensure security in the area,” Shupp told The Brown and White. 

“(The Bethlehem Police) are enforcers as well as educators. We educate a little more up front,” Shupp said.

Collaborative efforts include joint force patrols, a mutual surveillance system with over 75 cameras that span as far as Buchanan Street and Carlton Avenue, as well as shared daily reports.

“Students may notice the additional patrol offered by the Lehigh police during the weekend, but don’t realize the same presence of Bethlehem officers,” Shupp said. “Yet the Bethlehem police force serves just as active a role in ensuring safety, particularly in the enforcement of a liquor control grant for off-campus underage drinking.

“As for surveillance, cameras were installed by the university seven years ago both on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods,” Shupp said. “Over the next two months, the university plans to install 10 more cameras in areas of heavy pedestrian traffic. The cameras will also be visible to the Bethlehem police communication center, serving as ‘an extra set of eyes’ for preventing and responding to crime where students are involved.”

Recent incidents of crime, such as the attempted homicide and rape of a Lehigh graduate student by a Bethlehem teenager, have sparked student concern about the safety of living in off-campus homes.

“I don’t feel like I’m going to get to get jumped, but I wouldn’t leave anything out in the open. I always lock my windows and doors,” said Justin Pacchioli, ’15, a member of the off-campus residential community that makes up one-third of the student body.

Shupp said, however, that “crime is decreasing in the community and most break-ins are not forcible and are the result of carelessness.” He encouraged students to follow basic home safety measures, such as locking their windows and doors.

According to the university’s campus crime statistics, instances of burglary have decreased from nine incidences in 2011 to two in 2012 to one in 2013. The report shows that most offenses are decreasing in frequency; however, occurrences of aggravated assault rose from zero in both 2011 and 2012 to three in 2013.

Shupp and Clayton agreed that the commitment to safety is not the sole responsibility of the police; rather, students, faculty and staff must share the effort of maintaining the well-being of the community. One way Lehigh plans to achieve this is through the implementation of a new smartphone application called EmergenSee, a virtual escort that connects students to the Lehigh University Police Department dispatchers.

“I’m a parent, and of a Lehigh student, so (safety is) just as important to me,” Clayton said.

Donchez echoed Clayton’s sentiments.

“A safe Bethlehem attracts millions of visitors to enjoy our great city each year,” he said. “A safe Bethlehem allows individuals to invest or relocate their businesses to our city. A safe Bethlehem allows students to reside here and learn. A safe Bethlehem allows individuals to raise a family within our city limits. And a safe Bethlehem is fundamental to keep moving our city forward.”

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