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Sheridan Community Comes Together for Town Hall Meeting on Safety and Security

February 12, 2014

Approximately 150 people gathered in the gymnasium at Sheridan’s Trafalgar Campus last night to hear an update on the recent sexual attacks on or near the Oakville campus.  For those unable to attend in person, the meeting was live-streamed to Sheridan’s indoor campus TV screens and online at sheridantv.ca. 

Dr. Jeff Zabudsky, President and CEO of Sheridan hosted the meeting.  He began by stating that this issue is Sheridan’s top priority because “the safety of our staff and students is our pre-eminent concern.”  Zabudsky indicated that he is pleased with Sheridan’s response to date and the new security measures that have been put into place.  He added that this issue is “frustrating and worrisome” for everyone.  He urged people to be mindful of their personal safety and to help police by being “8,000 pairs of eyes and ears on campus, who can report suspicious behaviour that might help with the investigation.”

Jenna Pulver, President of the Sheridan Student Union indicated that this issue was a “huge concern” for the Sheridan Student Union and for all Sheridan students.  She thanked people for sharing their ideas and concerns with the Student Union staff.  Pulver outlined the Student Union’s SafeWalk program, which provides a male/female team to escort students wherever they need to go on campus, including through the woods.  Pulver indicated that Sheridan’s Student Union pays students to serve as SafeWalk escorts.  As such a criminal reference check is conducted before they are hired and they also receive first aid training.  Pulver left whistles for people to take on their way out to help provide an additional measure of personal security.

Michael Burjaw, Director of Security at Sheridan outlined the enhanced security measures that have been put into place.  Since last fall, five additional security staff have been added to Trafalgar Campus.  Extra bike, foot, and vehicle patrols around campus and through the wooded trails began during the fall.  In addition, Sheridan has purchased an all-season utility vehicle to patrol the wooded trails more effectively.  Recently a second security jeep was added to patrol the roadways and parking lots.   

Burjaw urged people to download the Sheridan mobile app, which includes a ‘Security’ icon that allows people to call security at their choice of Sheridan’s four campuses with the touch of a button.  These numbers can be used to request a SafeWalk from Sheridan security, which is available 24/7.  Two new emergency call stations were added to campus in the fall and a third one will be added near the forest trails once the ground fully thaws.  Discussions are also underway with the Town of Oakville about widening, straightening and adding lighting to forest paths this spring.

Norman Belfontaine, Chair of Halton Crime Stoppers urged people to use the 1-800-222-TIPS number to report any information they may have.  He stressed that this is an anonymous service, that people will never have to appear in court for providing information and that Crime Stoppers pays people for tips that result in an arrest.  Belfontaine also indicated that “8,000 pairs of eyes on campus can make a difference”.  For those with mobile phones, tips can be sent via text message by typing “Tip201” plus the message, which can be sent to CRIMES (274637).

Martin Power, Halton Regional Police Services Superintendent indicated that the police are “totally committed to resolving this issue” with 20 officers on the case.  Investigators believe that five of the incidents that have occurred between last fall and last week are related, due to similar descriptions of the suspect and geographic area where they occurred.  He indicated that this issue is “frustrating and difficult” for police because the attacker is heavily clothed and has his face concealed by a mask.  He stated “this keeps us up at night, as it does you”.  The suspect is described as male, between 5’4” and 5'7” with a slim to medium build and approximately 20-30 years old.  He is believed to have a bite mark on one of his hands, which he incurred during the February 4 attack.  Power indicated that the incidents have taken place between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and have not been limited to the wooded trails.  There is no pattern to the day of week of the attacks.  All of the attacks have happened outdoors and have involved Sheridan female students who are grabbed from behind.  He noted that a “good number” of the victims had ear buds in place and he urged people to be mindful of their surroundings when they are walking on campus.  Power was thankful that none of the attacks resulted in serious physical injury, noting that the larger harm is emotional. He also urged people to not “cry wolf” and test out police response times, as this detracts from investigative work.

Sergeant Carla Draper offered suggestions for people’s personal safety. She will be on site at Sheridan from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. every weekday until February 21 as a resource officer to offer personal safety tips and speak with anyone who may have questions.  Sgt. Draper has a desk in the main B wing hallway, Trafalgar Campus beside the Security office.  She also urged people to take control of their safety by being aware of their surroundings, walking with a purpose, walking with a buddy and alerting friends or family when you leave campus and when you expect to arrive at your next destination.  She urged people to take the safe route not the quick route, to use the SafeWalk service, and to download a free flashlight app on their phones in case they need to walk at night.  If confronted by an attacker, she noted people have to quickly decide between “fight or flight”.  She urged people to make as much noise as possible to draw attention to the situation and to use their fists, keys or whatever they have handy to defend themselves.   Sgt. Draper noted that there is a crime map on the Halton Police website, where people can check for updates on crimes in the community.

Sheridan’s Dean of Students Maria Lucido Bezely outlined some of the supports available to Sheridan students and specifically to the victims of the attacks.  She noted that an in-person meeting takes place with the victims, counselling is provided, and a safe plan is developed together with the student and Sheridan Security.  She reminded people to visit the Student Services Centre in B104 where they can be connected to free and anonymous counselling. 

Christine Szustaczek, Director of Communications, confirmed that Sheridan’s strategy is to share as much information as possible about every incident.  An email has been sent to all Sheridan email account holders after each attack to alert the community.  Sheridan also shares this information with the local high school near its Trafalgar campus. Campus safety maps have been created and emailed to all Sheridan email account holders detailing the location of emergency phones on campus, security kiosks, and showing the path of the SafeWalk program as going through the woods to the edge of campus.  She also indicated that the Sheridan community can anonymously report suspicious activity and concerning behavior online through the Sheridan College website which can be accessed through the link provided below.  This link can also be used to submit questions to Security.

Helpful links:

To Report Concerning Behaviour or Ask Questions About Security:

http://www.sheridancollege.ca/life-at-sheridan/campus-services/security/report-suspicious-activity.aspx

Campus Safety Maps:

http://www.sheridancollege.ca/life-at-sheridan/campus-services/security/safety-and-security.aspx

Counselling Services:

http://www.sheridancollege.ca/life-at-sheridan/student-services/counselling-services.aspx

Crime Stoppers:

http://haltoncrimestoppers.com/

Police Crime Map:

http://www.haltonpolice.ca/CrimeFiles/CrimeMapping/Pages/default.aspx

 

For more information, please contact:

Christine Szustaczek, Director of Corporate Communications & External Relations

T: 905-815-4169

E: christine.szustaczek@sheridancollege.ca