The tragic murder of Johns Hopkins undergraduate Chris
Elser on April 17 in an off-campus fraternity house left
the university searching for answers. First and foremost,
why did such a senseless act of violence take place, and
then, could anything be done to decrease the odds of
something like it from happening again?
In response, the president and the deans of the
Homewood schools on April 26 conducted a campus town
meeting to solicit the security concerns and related
recommendations of the undergraduate and graduate student
body. The university also began an examination of its
policies, procedures and programs regarding student safety
both on and off campus.
As a result, a number of additions and improvements to
security have been made to date, and several more
recommendations are being examined.
The three primary issues of concern presented at the
town meeting were the availability of safe private housing
for students living off campus, safe and efficient travel
off campus and the enhanced dissemination of security
Jim McGill, senior vice
president for finance and administration, said that President William R. Brody also
asked the Homewood Security
Department, Office of Student Life and selected
administration members to assess Johns Hopkins services,
including how we fare relative to a group of other urban
"We found that we fare well both in terms of crime,
which is below average, and the dedication of resources to
security services, which is about at the average," McGill
said. "We know we can always improve. Thus, we reviewed all
the elements of our current services. We identified some
measures that were immediately taken. We also have
recommendations that will expand current services but will
require additional resources. We are sharing those
recommendations with the deans and will be working with
them to implement them."
Specifically, since the attack the Security Department
has maintained an increased presence off campus and has
hired more contract guards to supplement its own staff
officers on these patrols. A new patrol post has been added
along the University Parkway corridor throughout the day
and night. Farther to the south, staff has been added to
existing patrol areas around Charles Village, especially in
the evening and overnight. All this is in addition to the
regular patrols of the Baltimore City Police Department,
with whom Hopkins Security works closely.
The university further encourages students to travel
safely at night, whether in groups or through its escort
programs. To promote the programs, the Office of Student
Life will be distributing wallet cards, bookmarks and
fliers to ensure that students know how to get a ride when
they need one. The information will also be printed on
newly issued J Cards and on the expanded Security
Department Web site
On and near campus, the number of "blue light"
emergency telephones has been increased from 28 to 31. The
university is adding signs by some of the phones to improve
their visibility and is looking at other ways to make
students better aware of where these emergency phones are
located. Additional blue light phones are planned along the
east side of Charles Street, both in the near future and
after completion of the Charles Commons student-housing
complex in 2006.
For this year's freshman orientation, safety briefings
were expanded and made mandatory. The Security Department
will continue to offer crime prevention evaluations of
fraternity houses and other off-campus dwellings and now
can also recommend the services of a certified specialist
in crime prevention in buildings.
Working with the Charles Village community, the
university has begun a survey of lighting in the
neighborhoods surrounding campus to identify areas that
could benefit from better illumination and will work with
property owners and citizens to make appropriate
Johns Hopkins is also nearing the end of a
consultant's study, begun before Elser's death, that should
provide concrete recommendations for using new technology,
including security cameras, to further improve student
safety both on campus and off. Further enhancements to
Security's escort services, such as the contracting of
professional drivers for all routes and an on-demand
service, are also under consideration.
In a letter to students that went out last week,
President Brody said that crimes against both persons and
property in the immediate vicinity of Homewood actually
have been declining over the past five years. Compared to
peer institutions of JHU's size and setting, he said, the
incidence of crime is low, but "we should take little
comfort in that."
"We want the downward trend to continue," he wrote.
"But the truth is that — the university's safety initiatives
notwithstanding — the person most important to making that
happen is you."
He urged students to use the university's walking and
escort services, to keep their residence hall rooms and
apartments locked and to never leave valuables unattended,
among other measures.
McGill said that in response to the town hall meeting,
every issue and suggestion made there has received serious
"Some required immediate action, which was taken. Some
reflected the fact that people did not know about current
available services, and so the communication about those
services has been enhanced," he said.
In overall terms of Homewood security, McGill said
that the evaluation process has borne out the premise that
Johns Hopkins has a first-rate security service, under the
able leadership of Director Ronald Mullen.
"Ron is committed to continually improving it and
welcomes suggestions from all members of the campus
community," McGill said.