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Administrators Host Safety Meeting After Towers East Robberies

Department of Public Safety Chief Marcus Lyles speaks to students about safety measures in the Towers East community room. Photo Courtesy of Jasper Smith. 

Howard University has enhanced security and updated security protocols at Howard Plaza Towers and on the main campus. Some security updates were seen to be made within days after The Hilltop published an article on Sept. 20 about unauthorized entries as well as theft at Towers East. 

On Sept. 20, the Office of Residence Life and University Housing sent an email to Towers Plaza residents at 5:10 p.m. about safety meetings that would be occurring at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. that night in Towers East and West, respectively.

The email stated, “In response to recent incidents involving unauthorized access to both the East and West Towers, we are inviting you to a critical safety meeting with campus leaders where we will discuss the recent incidents and how to prevent them going forward.”

About 20 Towers East residents gathered in the Towers East community room that Tuesday night to attend the meeting which was attended by University administrators and leaders such as Department of Public Safety (DPS) Chief Marcus Lyles, Vice President for Student Affairs Cynthia Evers and Director of Residence Life Shelton Higgins.   

During the meeting, Lyles and Higgins presented the residents with various safety measures that have already been implemented by the University, many of which were implemented as of this past summer. 

The measures mentioned included installments of enhanced lighting around campus, increased Metro Police Department (MPD) exterior patrols and federal partnerships with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security to help protect students and properly respond to bomb threats. 

Higgins also mentioned a 24-hour security presence in all the residences brought about by contracts with Allied Universal, a security services company. Allied Universal security personnel will patrol the campus along with DPS and MPD, Higgins explained.

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In addition to the safety measures already in place including handheld POM devices, DPS also plans to continue its multi-million dollar project called Eagle Eye. The project includes expanding, implementing, or assessing hundreds of cameras in numerous locations around campus as well as placing new smartcard readers around campus, according to Lyles. The smart card readers allow students to access buildings via the Openpath app, and many buildings have already been fitted with the readers as of last week including Towers East and West.

The department is finishing phase one of the project, which has taken about 10 months and is making an effort to move on to the next phase, according to Lyles. There are more than 1,000 cameras and card readers throughout the academic and residence buildings, according to Director of Operations, Strategy and Communications Jarrett Carter. 

Cameras were installed last week in front of Howard Plaza Towers. Similarly looking cameras were spotted on the Yard and across the street from Harriet Tubman Quadrangle on 2455 4th St. NW. Photo Courtesy of JD Jean-Jacques.

In the meeting, Higgins touched on unauthorized usage of Towers East and West fire exits and how they have posed a safety hazard for the rest of the residence. The children who robbed Towers East rooms on Sept. 17 gained access to the building through a fire exit that a resident left through, according to Carter.

“As we know we have some areas that let people into the building, and that’s where most of these intruders have entered the building,” Higgins said, “So I want to talk about letting people through side doors. I know they’re convenient to exit through a side door, but you have to think about the risk that you also introduce to a community by utilizing these side doors.”

In a written statement provided to The Hilltop, Carter noted that security guards will be part of an ongoing rotation at fire exit locations, as well as in and around the buildings. The rotating security personnel, he added, “precede installation of motion-activated and recording tech.” 

Carter also stated, “We hope that students are more mindful of the rules regarding using these exits and the vulnerability they create for entire living communities.”

A security guard sits beside a Towers East fire exit. Nightly security guard rotations were observed to have begun last week. Photo Courtesy of JD Jean-Jacques.

Lyles emphasized to residents that the safety of the students was at the forefront of his priorities and that the department is consistently working to improve safety conditions. 

“We’re in it together,” he said. “I’m working with you. I want us to understand that or I wanted to impart that on you – that it’s not a silo here. You’re not in it by yourself.”

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Despite recent efforts to reform safety protocols and implement additional security measures, the meeting was still met with mixed reviews from students who attended. 

“This meeting was a waste of my time,” sophomore biology major Danielle Medley said. “If you ask questions, they don’t answer and can never give you real info. It’s always ‘we’re working on it’ ‘we’ll look into it,’ ‘in the coming weeks’ but nothing ever actually changes and all our questions are still unanswered.” 

Tricia Babb, a sophomore journalism major from Atlanta thought the safety meeting was productive.

She said, “I liked the meeting because it allowed us to speak in an open forum which is something we should do more. I also like the fact they are doing what they can to increase our safety such as the 24/7 guards, ID checks, etcetera.” “However,” she said, “we shouldn’t have had these problems in the first place. It’s time for Howard to be proactive instead of reactive. As meetings continue I’m sure we’ll see more change.” 

The University leaders ended the meeting by encouraging students to obtain a POM device, report any incidents to the authorities, download the BisonSafe app and follow University social media platforms to stay up to date on new protocols.

This safety meeting kicks off a series of meetings that will be occurring in residence halls across campus, according to a mass email sent by the Office of University Communications. 

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She emphasized that the safety meeting was “not a one-shot deal.” She said, “ …we have committed to making sure that we have these meetings and have these conversations because we just want you to be in a predicament or be in a situation where you just feel safe in your own space.” 

The dates and times as well as frequency at which these meetings will be held have yet to be made publicly known.

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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