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New SCAD patrol officers stress safety on campus, larger Savannah community

January 17, 2017

Savannah College of Art and Design is a sprawling fixture of the Savannah community, with campus buildings and residence halls peppered across the downtown and midtown areas.

As a result, the safety of SCAD’s campus and the city is often one and the same. John Buckovich, SCAD’s vice president for university safety, said the university’s recent Community Patrol Officer initiative aims to build upon the security systems already in place to better protect the Savannah community — not just SCAD students.

“SCAD is intertwined with the city,” Buckovich said. “We have dorms and buildings all over the city. If we are able to make our campus safer, then we make Savannah safer.”

The first SCAD CPOs hit the streets Jan. 4. The officers patrol the midtown and downtown areas in marked cars from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., and they mostly keep an eye out for suspicious behavior and people in need.

“If they see anybody getting out of their car and walking to their house, we want them to stop, and make sure that person gets in OK,” Buckovich said. “We’ve had, in the last two weeks, 1,000 engagements — actually talking to people and getting involved.”

Buckovich said SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace wanted students to be safe and comfortable getting from campus buildings to their homes at any hour, which prompted the SafeRide service.

From 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., a SCAD security officer will drive a student from any open SCAD building back to their home in the midtown or downtown areas. SCAD has also partnered with ridesharing service Uber. When the wait time for SafeRide exceeds 30 minutes, SCAD pays an Uber driver to take the student home.

SCAD security officers and CPOs have a direct line to Savannah-Chatham police, and if a CPO sees anything suspicious, they can relay the information to metro quickly, and vice versa. But CPOs aren’t the only SCAD security employees watching the city.

Surveillance

SCAD has nearly 700 cameras placed around the Savannah community, and they are monitored around the clock by security officers at the operations center in SCAD’s Safety and Security Office.

Shannon Johnson was one of the security officers watching the cameras on Thursday, and during the day shift she normally focuses on areas with high concentrations of students.

“The academic buildings, there’s a lot of foot traffic and bike traffic at these times, so we look out for them while they’re doing that,” Johnson said.

The cameras pick up much more than just SCAD students, Buckovich said.

“We don’t just have cameras in our buildings, we have them around our buildings,” Buckovich said. “We capture crime that doesn’t have anything to do with SCAD, but we might capture a suspect running or walking or driving past our buildings.”

If a crime is committed near a SCAD building, Johnson and the other security officers can lock down any door on SCAD’s campus at a moment’s notice. If a SCAD camera catches a person committing a crime or a suspect fleeing, they can contact Savannah police and give them information about the suspect.

“If we happen to see the person on camera, we get on our direct line to police and we let them know where they are, where they’re going,” Johnson said.

If the cameras don’t catch something, there’s a chance a student might. SCAD was the first university in Georgia to use the LiveSafe app, a public safety tool that allows students to send photos, videos and text directly to SCAD security. If a student is in danger or sees any suspicious behavior, they can use the app to call for help.

Access control

Colleges commonly make use of an access card system to regulate who can and can’t enter its facilities. All SCAD buildings and residence halls are equipped with a card-based access system — only students, faculty and staff with a SCAD ID are able to open university doors.

But Buckovich said SCAD wanted to utilize modern technology to make its system even more secure.

Every time a student or faculty member enters a building using their ID card, their name, face and general information pops up on a screen in the Safety and Security Office. If a student reports a lost ID card, the card is flagged in the access system, and a security officer can prevent the unauthorized user from entering the building.

In an emergency, security officers can lock any door on any building at any SCAD campus. Some buildings are also equipped with infrared camera systems that can automatically alert security officers of trespassers.

“These guys can lock down every single SCAD building in Savannah, Atlanta and Hong Kong with a few clicks of a mouse,” Buckovich said.

ShotSpotter

SCAD was the first university to implement the ShotSpotter gunshot tracking system. ShotSpotter, which is also used by Savannah police, uses microphone sensors placed around Savannah to triangulate and recognize gunshots.

When ShotSpotter picks up a noise that sounds like a gunshot, the audio is sent to ShotSpotter headquarters in California, where a trained supervisor determines if it was a gun discharging or fireworks or a similar noise. If it is a gunshot, the location is relayed back to the SCAD operations center and SCMPD — all in about one minute.

Buckovich said the system is also installed inside all SCAD buildings.

“We hope we never have to use the interior system, but if it were to go off, instead of a map, [security officers] would see the floor plan of the building and where the shot was,” Buckovich said.

Not just students

Buckovich said that SCAD’s security and safety protocols will continue to evolve as new technology becomes available. He meets regularly with Savannah-Chatham police precinct captains and Chief Joseph Lumpkin to coordinate their efforts to make Savannah safer.

“For us, the bottom line is that President Wallace and SCAD have invested a lot into our security,” Buckovich said. “It’s not just a concern to her that our campus is secure but also the community. If we can make our campus safer, Savannah will be safer.”

SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace said she has been pleased with the CPO program so far, and applauded the department’s collaboration with Savannah-Chatham police.

“Within the very first week of SCAD’s new patrol program, we have witnessed the reward of collective action,” Wallace said. “The safety and security of our friends, neighbors, families is paramount, and the professional collaboration between SCAD and the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department proves that, together, we can keep our community safe. Savannah is our home.”

Savannah Morning News, Savannah