The Student Union is a social hub for our students. It’s a break for faculty and staff at lunchtime, it serves as a welcoming beacon to visitors, and it’s a link between UNLV and Las Vegas. It’s also a big part of an urban campus with thousands of students, staff, and guests visiting daily. We are open to the public, so everyone is allowed on university property.
I might have taken that for granted.
One day last spring I had been standing at the steps in front of the Student Union waiting for a friend when a man I didn’t know approached me. He asked me for a dollar to catch the bus. I agreed and pulled out my wallet.
As soon as this person saw that I had some cash on me, he told me to give him $15 instead. I immediately felt uncomfortable. Since I am legally blind all I could see was a dark blur next to me. I gave him $2 and he left, but I realized after the fact that I didn’t handle the situation as safely as I could have.
I feel like I was lucky, so I wanted to learn more about what I could do. I met with Ryan Doyle, project manager at UNLV Police Services and Imad Mehanna, senior project manager at Construction Management.
It’s OK to ask for help
Though we have a dedicated police force that works hard to keep everyone safe, they can’t be everywhere all the time. There are many ways we, as students, can take the initiative regarding our safety. Having an officer nearby to help is best, but what if one isn’t around like in my situation? The RebelSAFE program offers services to help students feel more secure.
Developed by Doyle, the app connects students directly to UNLV police in case of emergency, request an escort, or leave a tip for police if they see suspicious activity.
Or you can use the multiple emergency phone stations to connect directly with police services throughout campus. Even more RebelSAFE Emergency Phone towers were installed this semester. They are equipped with a 360-degree surveillance camera and are strategically located throughout campus to broadcast RebelSAFE Alerts via public address speaker.
“We are working on adding 147 cameras around the campus, along with about 100 emergency phones,” Mehanna said.
My story might be different than yours, but we can learn from each other
It’s important to rely on our instincts. As someone who’s legally blind, I can’t see my surroundings so I listen and gauge people’s reactions through their speech, breathing, and footsteps. You can learn a lot about a person from simple mannerisms. Instincts are another factor to pay attention to. If someone does something that makes you uncomfortable, like leave a bag or shouts at other students, it’s worth reporting. “We might get 200 false alarms, but it’s worth it to get that one call that is a real emergency,” Mehanna said.
Learn about your resources
There are a lot of important programs offered free to students through Police Services. Our officers have the same powers as any public police force and are composed of multiple units, from detectives to K-9. Campus police encourage students to approach them whether they are in trouble or just need help with directions, yet many students do not take advantage of the offer. “There is some nervousness when you approach an officer to ask a question,” Doyle said. “But we try to break that down. We believe heavily in community policing.”
Students can help each other
Knowing we can reach the police in an emergency is reassuring, but there are other precautions students can take when they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. General awareness of one’s surroundings can be the difference between stopping a dangerous situation and being caught in the middle of it.
“One of the things you will find nowadays is that people are absorbed in their cell phone; that’s their world,” Doyle said. “As they are walking around campus, things are taking place and people should always be aware of them.”
Mehanna said that if you are walking while listening to music, only listen to one ear-bud, for your safety, and to help police. Officers rely on the public to give them information and tips about crimes and suspicious characters. This is where it is up to students to take their own precautions. “We’ve lost opportunities where that natural surveillance just wasn’t there,“ Doyle said.
Get involved and take action
The way students handle themselves around escalating situations goes a long way in keeping them safe. UNLV’s Girls On Guard course teaches basic self-defense methods to give students the knowledge to deal with a variety of situations. The classes are being expanded, and there will be similar lessons open to men and seniors as well. Students are also encouraged to invite UNLV police to their classrooms to talk about a wide variety of topics like crime prevention and campus emergency preparedness.
My new rules
It’s worth it to be organized. If it’s late, I plan to get an escort or walk with a friend. If I’m leaving campus alone, I will make a call and let someone know where I’m going. I plan to stay to well-lit and populated areas. I will pay more attention to where all the exits are so that I can get out safely in case of an emergency. And I will make sure to check for updates through Police Service’s social media or the RebelSAFE app in case of emergency.
We are a big campus, and things can go wrong. However, being prepared by taking advantage of what UNLV offers is well worth it and has already boosted my confidence.