Excellent campus safety rating a collaborative effort between police, community

May 1, 2019 | Katherine Adams

University Police with students
An important aspect of Community Outreach Officer Nadia Hall's job is to develop relationships with students on campus. 

It’s becoming more important for college campuses to have excellent security in place to let students and the community know they are proactively working to maintain a safe living, working and learning environment. On a list of 25 colleges, BestColleges.com ranked University of Houston-Clear Lake as 15th in the nation for best campus security. No other Texas college or university made the ranking, and UH-Clear Lake’s Chief of Police Allen Hill explained how the university maintains its place on the list and even moved up three places from its ranking last year.

All about relationships

“What most people know about police work, they’ve seen on TV,” Hill said. “University police work is one of the most difficult among policing jobs because everything depends on our close ties with our surrounding community. It’s all about building relationships.”

Hill said he and the 16 sworn police officers who make up the UHCL Police Department know that achieving a high standard of campus safety is an investment over time. “Between the faculty, staff and students, we have about 12,000 people in a one-mile radius,” he said. “In a city, those people would be spread across miles. Among other things, a city police force is not able to do regular building checks and deal with the differences between all ages and lifestyles with the faculty, staff and students. Campus police work is actually all about relationship building.”

Nadia Hall, the police department’s community outreach officer, is among the first people new and transfer students meet. “I ask students if they have our phone number and let them know we are here,” she said. “One of the most important things I do is work to earn the trust of international students. Many of them come from countries where the police are not trustworthy. International students who have been here can advocate on our behalf to let them know that we are trustworthy and we are here to help.”

Prevention and awareness courses

Hill said that the high rating takes into consideration the programs and services the police department offers, like VIN etching, safety escorts, vehicle unlocks, airing of flat tires, and safety courses such as Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT), Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE), and Rape Aggression Defense (RAD). Hill said it’s his requirement, not a state requirement, that the entire police department be trained in ALERRT.

“They’re trained to tactically locate and eliminate the threat,” Hill said. “They’re taught the procedures to clear a room safely and find the room where the shooter might be. From the ALERRT Center, located at Texas State University in San Marcos, came the CRASE training, which teaches civilians to avoid, deny entry and defend themselves against an active shooter. The CRASE program is being taught nationally.”

CRASE training is offered at UHCL once a month, to a group or as needed. “You learn what to do if you are in a building with a shooter, not just here on campus but anywhere,” Hill said. “We feel like we get a lot of positive feedback from people who attend. They feel they’ve learned something. We teach people to have a higher level of awareness wherever they go. Everything revolves around awareness.”

There’s even a little homework involved with CRASE training. “We ask everyone to think of their favorite places to shop and eat,” Hill continued. “We tell them to go there and identify all the exits. Most people are not aware of the exits in the places they frequent, and that’s why I want to start training their minds to observe these things when they go out.  That, along with teaching people to be aware of their surroundings, is the most important assignment I give.”

Erica Solis, a junior working on her Bachelor of Social Work, said that she took a Rape Aggression Defense class offered by the UHCL Police Department with her daughter in 2017 but they both wanted to retake the class. “I think it’s important that we, as women, know how to defend ourselves,” Solis said. “I want to equip my daughter with knowledge and confidence if anything were ever to happen with her.”

Although students in the RAD class are asked not to discuss what they’ve learned, she said that over the course of the two-day class, the most inspiring takeaway was to use her voice. “We learned that scared women should use their voice and scream,” she said. “If you were put into a situation like that, you’d think you would scream. But women are fearful to scream as loud as they can. We are put in a space to practice using our voices. That’s very empowering,” she said. “I can’t wait to take it again and even bring my mother, who’s 72.”

Getting ready for on-campus residents

Hill said that when Hunter Hall, the university’s first on-campus residence hall opens in the fall, the police department was preparing for a different scenario on campus. “We’ll have a more active campus life around the clock,” he said. “On-campus housing always brings people who are not affiliated with the university. It’s natural that we’ll be seeing faces that we’re not familiar with, but the main thing we are doing to prepare is to keep building our relationship between our students and the officers. We will offer more CRASE classes and be very involved so students will learn to trust us.”

He added that the police department is already working closely with Director of Student Housing and Residential Life Matthew Perry for move-in day. “We will take an active part on that day, so students will get to know us from the very first day,” he said. “We know dorm life will be dorm life, but we have a lot of safety measures in place to make sure students stay safe. We can’t prevent everything, but that’s where education and relationship-building come in. We’re going to start out teaching students to be aware of their surroundings and to let us know if they see someone around that doesn’t seem like they need to be there.”

Law enforcement partnerships

UHCL’s high security rating, Hill said, is also the result of collaboration with many campus partners. “We work with Houston Police Department out of Entrance 1 of our campus, as well as the deputies with Harris County Constable Precinct 8,” he said. “The Nassau Bay Police Department works closely with us, as well as our on-campus partners: the Dean of Students Office, Student Housing and Residential Life, the Title IX Office, Human Resources, the Division of Student Affairs, the Recreation and Wellness Center, Counseling Services, the CARE Team, and University Forest Apartments.”

Still, says Hill, Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country and people should not become complacent because our campus is secure. “There is still crime around us. As always, if you see something, say something,” he said.

For more information about UHCL’s campus police, visit www.uhcl.edu/police.