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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Campus

Cougar Pack ride service aims to increase student safety


Cougar Pack is intended to relieve strain on UHPD to provide after-hours escort services while still ensuring options for student safety. | McKenzie Misiaszek/The Cougar

In a joint effort with Campus Safety and Security, the Student Government Association implemented Cougar Pack, a new after-hours student safety service, on campus this week.

Cougar Pack will give students transportation from the MD Anderson Library as part of an effort to increase student safety and cut down on calls requesting security escorts from UHPD. The service is free and open to all students, faculty and staff.

“Because of this program, people who do request UHPD for legitimate concerns of stalking, harassment, they’re getting shorter wait times and better efficiency while we’re helping people from MD Anderson Library get where they need to be,” said SGA Vice President Davis Darusman, the mind behind Cougar Pack.

The service is offered Tuesday through Thursday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. SGA has a station inside MD Anderson Library where students can request a ride, upon which time a Cougar Pack employee will swipe their Cougar Card. Two additional students will be waiting in front of the library to take the student to their dorm or vehicle.

“A big reason for why I wanted to (work for Cougar Pack) was because I think campus safety is really important,” said pre-business sophomore and Cougar Pack driver Kristine Ubina. “I have a lot of friends who complain about how they don’t feel safe at night or having to walk in the dark, and so I thought, why not apply and help out students who might feel unsafe?”

In the past, UHPD offered the sole escort service available to students, who have cited below-par customer service and long wait times as reasons they don’t frequent the service.

“I think this is much needed,” said biochemistry junior Sahar Baig. “Me and my other friends will always be like, ‘I’m going to go to the library now and study’ and then we’ll go, ‘How are you going to get back?’ And then we just walk back alone from the library really late at night, and it’s really scary. It’s good that there is a program like this to look out for the safety of students.”

Though Cougar Pack doesn’t promise to eliminate wait times, Assistant Vice President for Campus Safety and Security Malcolm Davis said the library-based service allows students to see the physical line for escorts, as opposed to having to trust a wait time given over the phone.

“One of my friends, and he’s 6’ 4”, plays basketball, and he said he requested an escort from the MD Anderson Library,” Darusman said. “They pulled up, saw him and then they left, because they’re like, ‘This guy’s fine.’”

Despite Cougar Pack’s recent implementation, UHPD has already reported fewer escort calls.

“In 2017 and 2016 on Nov. 1, they had over 20 UHPD escort requests. But on the day we held Cougar Pack, they had in the teens to high single digits,” Darusman said. “We’re relieving a lot of the requests.”

Those involved with the service believe Cougar Pack is filling a University need and cite their friends or themselves as people who would — and do — use the service.

“This is a service that the students want and that it’s up to the SGA to make it happen, and so far they’re doing a great job,” Davis said.

Each Cougar Pack student volunteer and student employee that drives students around campus or swipes their cards undergoes criminal background checks, and their driver’s licenses are ran to ensure student safety. All Cougar Pack members are trained to drive a golf cart until they are deemed prepared.

“We want to be sure that the people are comfortable with what they’re doing,” Davis said. “They’re used to driving the cart after dark, that they’re used to navigating, because it’s different at night than during the day.”

The idea for Cougar Pack originated from the platform of Students Unite, the SGA political party that ran alongside Darusman and SGA President Cameron Barrett.

“It was originally going to be ‘Affordable textbooks, growing involvement and free T-shirts for all,’” Darusman said. “I told Cameron this is not the best platform, and he said, ‘What about smoother sidewalks?’ I said, ‘This is going to get you nowhere.’ My thing was, ‘I’ll agree to run with you, but let’s change that last initiative to something I’m passionate about, which is campus safety.’”

Currently, Cougar Pack is available only to individuals leaving the MD Anderson Library. Darusman said additional safety escort options and locations may open up as the program expands.

“If you need a ride, come to the library, because if we’re willy-nilly all across campus we can’t provide the service,” Davis said.

If successful, the program will expand to a larger service with more golf carts and walking escorts. Cougar Pack is currently set to run into the summer, but the fate of the service will later on rest with the next SGA administration.

“This year could be a roaring success,” Davis said. “But then, it’s student driven, the students are the ones that are doing it, so a lot of them are SGA officers. But will the group of officers have the same passion as this program, or will they have a passion for something else?”

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