By Fifi Enyi
The freaks do come out at night. That said, the safest distance between you and your destination may be a call to the University of Calgary Safewalk Program.
The Safewalk program was established by the Students’ Union Vice-president External Lance Kayfish in 1995. Soon after, a partnership between Campus Security and the SU was forged. Prior to this period Campus Security administered a service similar to that of Safewalk.
"People were concerned about their own safety so they started calling Campus Security to ask for escorts without any knowledge of Safewalk," said Safewalk Co-ordinator Lisha Hassanali. "Slowly the numbers started rising and from there we created Safewalk."
Safewalk is a student operated program that runs seven days a week. Two Safewalkers, one male and one female, meet students anywhere on campus to escort them to their destination.
"Safewalk is a program that is sweeping the country," said Campus Security Manager Larry Fritz. "Its like a neighborhood watch out in the community."
According to Hassanali, around this time of year Safewalk usually gets the most calls late in the evening, but as the year progresses calls come earlier in the day.
"This early on in the year we usually get the most calls after 8 p.m. just because it’s not as dark," said Hassanali. "But going into October, once Daylight Savings Time kicks in, it goes back up to 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. As soon as it gets into November and December people are calling in at 5:30 p.m."
Safewalk operates from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. A 7-11 p.m. shift also runs during this peak period as Safewalk receives most of its calls during this time.
"It’s easier to remember that Safewalk comes on at 5:00 p.m. for students so you know they’re around," said Hassanali. "After that, Security does the walks and they even do walks when we do."
Before volunteers become Safewalkers they must undergo training to prepare for the demands of their job.
"Training is really important but it can be a little dull and boring, especially for returning Safewalkers," said Hassanali. "We do team building and go through the handbook and ‘what if’ situations."
Hassanali adds that during training Safewalkers are made more aware of the dangers present during a shift.
"We don’t ask them to get involved in a situation," said Hassanali. "We ask them to be what we call ‘eyes and ears’, extra eyes and ears, so that people know they’re out there. If it’s a slow night, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, I encourage Safewalkers to go to the Dino games or concerts to check out what the crowd is like."
The Safewalk program not only provides a valuable service to students, but also allows volunteers to gain practical skills and experience.
"I’ve realized that the job they do here is important," said Safewalker Robin Whiting. "You don’t realize how many things can go wrong until you actually see it happen. The stupid little things that you see happening really affects the way the university is run and how you feel about coming to school here."
Safewalk had a successful year in 1998 when 1500 Safewalks were successfully administered. Fritz attributes some of the success to the highly visible clothing volunteers wear.
"The fact that we haven’t had any incidents in the last five years except for one speaks volumes," said Fritz. "Safewalk acts as a deterrent. Wearing bright orange-red jackets tells the community out there that they are around."
"For 1500 students the campus is their home," said Hassanali. "If you don’t feel safe at your home where are you going to feel safe?"
If you need a Safewalk anywhere on campus call 220-5333.