The University of Wyoming will roll out a new smartphone safety app as part of a push to increase campus security, months after a man tackled and sexually assaulted a female victim near the school’s football stadium.
In January, the university’s student government formed an ad hoc committee to study campus safety. It included members of the government, the university’s police chief, the dean of students and representatives from UW’s Title IX office.
The debate about campus safety has raged nationally for years but hit UW especially hard in late fall. After the Nov. 10 sexual assault near War Memorial Stadium, students held a walkout and delivered a petition to President Laurie Nichols’ office, calling for better lighting and faster notifications of assaults, among other things.
UW data shows there were 19 forcible sexual assaults in 2016. There were 14 in 2015 and nine in 2014.
The walkout “was just a student gathering ... where they were trying to bring to light that students were, you know, not happy with where we’re at right now with sexual assault and they wanted us to do more for campus safety,” UW President Laurie Nichols told the Star-Tribune earlier this year.
With that in mind, Ben Wetzel, the president of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming, formed the committee and gave it two charges.
“One, to investigate bringing on some sort of mobile application service,” he said. “I also charged them do a lighting audit and develop a three-to-four year, long-term plan.”
The committee did both. For the app, they chose Rave Guardian, a company that UW already uses to disseminate its emergency alerts.
The application provides a number of valuable features, Wetzel said. While the app is not exclusive to UW, users signing up with a university email will have it personalized to the school. They can also provide personalized information — like medical conditions.
But the heart of the app, Wetzel said, is the real-time security it provides. Say, for example, you’re leaving the library late at night and walking home. If the walk typically takes 15 minutes, you can set a timer on the app. You can alert guardians — a partner, friend, parent or even the police — that you’re leaving and expect to be at your location in a quarter of an hour.
Those guardians can then monitor your location as you walk. If you don’t make it to your destination during that period, then your guardian and UW police are alerted.
On top of that, there’s an emergency 911 button that can be pressed at any time, which routes the user to the University of Wyoming Police Department’s dispatch.
Users can also send anonymous tips — including photos — to university police. The same is true if they spot a faulty streetlight or a water main break, Wetzel said; users can snap a photo and send that information to the appropriate departments via the app.
The university signed a three-year contract to use the app, at a cost of $6,000 a year. That money comes from the student government’s budget.
“Safety has always been an evolving conversation on campus,” Wendy Hungerford, co-chair of the committee, said in a statement. “This app offers students control over their own safety whether on or off campus.”
Wetzel said the committee also sent out four teams to wander the campus and inspect its lights. They identified several “problem” spots and are working with facilities personnel to address them, he said.