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Major Security Upgrades Planned for Residence Halls

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October 18, 2006

Aided by an outside consulting firm, Northwestern has spent the past several months studying current residence hall security procedures and evaluating a variety of potential measures to improve security on campus. The study has included an extensive review of the University’s current access systems for residence halls, physical inspections of the halls and benchmarking how peer universities handle residence hall security.

As the consultants noted in their report, Northwestern has a unique system of student residences, one that has grown up over time in a variety of ways. Northwestern has 34 residence halls and an additional 29 fraternity and sorority houses, some of which house as few as 25 students. Many of the residence halls and Greek houses date to the early 20th century and were not built with modern security features in mind.

Last year, Northwestern experienced several incidents of intruders in residence halls. One arrest was made in connection with these incidents, but the University remains committed to providing a secure living environment for our students on campus. Therefore, Northwestern will undertake several measures to improve residence hall security. Those measures include:

  • Alarming all residence hall doors and having them alarmed except the main entrance 24 hours a day. Currently many side entrances to residence halls are not alarmed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. While this may be convenient, having multiple points of exit reduces the security of the residence halls. Under the new procedure, secondary hall doors will have their alarms activated at all times. Some exceptions to this general practice may be made for specific reasons.  
  • Replacing the existing system in the large residence halls of having student monitors in the lobbies during evening hours with a new system using full-time community service officers who are part of University Police. The new personnel would monitor the main entrance during nighttime hours.
  • Installing closed-circuit television cameras in the main entrances of a number -- not yet determined -- of residence halls. The closed-circuit television system will help deter unauthorized entry and hopefully reduce the number of incidents of students permitting others to follow them into the residence hall after the student has unlocked the door. The system will also enable monitoring of those residence halls that do not have a community service officer at the entrance, and will provide a record of who entered the building at a specific time or day if an incident does occur.
  • Constructing security workstations in the entrances of the large residence halls to provide a place for the community service officers.
  • Continuing to use private security officers to patrol outside in areas near the residence halls and on campus in order to augment University Police.
  • Increasing lighting and trimming landscaping at selected locations near residence halls.
  • Implementing a comprehensive crime prevention program coordinated by University Police and Residence Life.

Details on all of these measures, as well as others being considered, are being worked on by a special committee on residence hall security. The committee includes representatives from Student Affairs, University Police, Facilities Management and other offices. No timetable has been set for implementation of these measures, with the exception of alarming the residence halls 24 hours a day, which is a top priority and will begin in the coming weeks. A complete plan for implementing all of security measures is under development.

Residence hall security is a shared responsibility. The University has already and will continue to invest significant resources to provide for the safety and security of our students. To do that effectively, however, we need students to cooperate with the systems that are being developed, as well as those already in place.