Making campuses safe


By JOANNE LIM and SIMRIT KAUR

The price of safety is vigilance. JOANNE LIM and SIMRIT KAUR look at the security measures put in place by colleges and universities to protect students. 

STUDENT Lee Shih Wei took the drastic step of quitting her certificate course at a college in Kuala Lumpur because of fears for her safety. The dark alleys and the presence of groups of youths on motorbikes got the 18-year-old worried about returning home when lectures end at 10pm. 

CHEN:Police come to the collegeto give talks on self-defence

It doesn't help that she has to catch the last bus from Kampung Medan all the way back to Kajang. ”I'm usually the only one waiting at the bus-stop. Swarms of youths on motorbikes would pass by and tease me,” says Shih Wei. 

After only two months, she decided to call it quits. 

“My parents did not feel it was safe for me to continue studying there. Canny Ong's body was found near that area and I really fear for my own safety.”  

Noorul Syuhada Hamdan, an Olympia College student, has had her bag snatched three times on her way to Klang Bus Stand, a 10-minute walk away. 

“There is nothing much the college can do about it as it happened beyond its premises. It was partly my fault for not being more careful.” 

Snatch thefts, although not considered a “serious” crime, are a constant threat for many in the Klang Valley. The lack of street savvy skills among females can also lead to more dangerous incidents like rape and murder. The recent abduction, rape and murder of 29-year-old IT analyst Canny Ong as well as other similar incidents (see sidebar on recent crimes) have given rise to greater awareness of the need to be vigilant and not take risks. 

ROSLI:We have plainclothes per-sonnel doing their rounds on cam-pus

StarEducation visited a few institutions and talked to college heads and students about safety measures. A number of institutions are putting in place a wide spectrum of security measures ranging from security guards to sophisticated computerised equipment. 

 

Late classes 

A human resources executive at Shih Wei's college, Mohd Anas Hashim, says they would look into changing the timetable, “We are hoping to have the part-time classes during the weekends rather than at night on weekdays. However, we have to ensure that the time is convenient for all students before making any changes.” 

Olympia College Kuala Lumpur, is popular with working adults who take up courses on a part-time basis. Classes usually end only at 9.30pm. Many students have to walk to the Klang Bus Stand or Pasar Seni to take public transport back home.  

Olympia's deputy principal Chu Wai Sheong says that students are advised to walk in groups and stick to well-lit areas when going home at night. 

“We get the students and staff to look out for each other. For example, a lecturer will stay with a student at night if their transportation is late. Lecturers report any unfamiliar people they see wandering around the college.” 

Like most other institutions, Olympia tells students the do's and don'ts during the orientation period. “We try to familiarise new students with their surroundings and advise them to be safe and aware at all times when moving about KL.” 

Kemayan ATC College, another institution situated in the city – in the busy Chinatown district – advises its students never to walk alone after dark. Says deputy principal Murali Kandasamy: ”We also tell them not to wear gold jewellery. However, thanks to our location, there are a lot of tourist police around.” 

ATC has also installed CCTV at the entrance of the college building. A public car park is opposite the college and visible to the security guards. Olympia students too can make use of an outdoor car park adjacent to the college. 

Universiti Malaya (UM), on the other hand, has a high volume of people and cars within its grounds. Intrakota and LRT feeder buses also make stops in the campus. UM's location between KL and PJ makes it a popular shortcut route for motorists trying to beat the Federal Highway jam.  

UM director of security Rosli Mahadi admits that it is very difficult to stop every car and believes that most of the drivers who use the route are ex-UM students. UM also has several attractions like Rimba Ilmu and a museum that is open to the public. 

“We don't want UM to become like a military camp. We are not too strict during the daytime but we do have plainclothes personnel doing their rounds on campus. We can also communicate with each other via walkie talkie if there are any suspicious looking people.” 

VALARMATHI:I don't go out aloneat night

To ensure that less traffic enters UM at night, the authorities close three of the five entrances into UM after 9pm, leaving only the KL and PJ gate open. 

Because of the large area and lack of personnel, UM has mobile units of security guards doing their rounds on Land Rovers and motorcycles. At night, they help to send students who finish class late back to their hostel. 

 

Snatch thefts 

Snatch thefts are the most common crime affecting ladies. The prevalence of this and other crimes prompted KDU College to initiate a safety campaign last year. 

Chen Set Li, customer care manager at KDU said during the campaign, the police came to the college to give talks on self-defence. It also took part in Petaling Jaya Member of Parliament Chew Mei Fun's PJ Crime Free campaign and was at the launch in Damansara Uptown. 

“We also contributed views and feedback for a “crime free” booklet including how to protect yourself against snatch thefts. We have made copies and they're available to all students.” 

Chen has noticed more disquiet among female students following the rape and murder of Canny Ong last month but believes that KDU students are more aware of dangers “as the message has been drummed into them since last year”. The college has no CCTV cameras but has installed some at its hostel in Kota Damansara, 13km away. 

Kit Chin, vice-president (operations) of Sedaya International College, which is located near the Cheras Leisure Mall, says the institution organised a campaign in conjunction with the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) earlier this year. 

“We have a close relationship with the police. They have agreed to do rounds around the college. We also have a police information box for students, which is opened weekly, as well as a dedicated police officer whom we can contact anytime.” 

Self-defence classes are also available including jujitsu, karate and taekwando for students. During the crime prevention week, booths selling pepper sprays and whistles were set up. 

Chin says that international students, who are often targeted by thieves, have been advised by the college not to have too much cash on them and to be cautious. 

In UM's case, Rosli says that most snatch theft incidents happen outside campus. To remind students to be vigilant, UM has put up signboards at strategic spots warning students of the danger. 

 

Safety precautions 

Rosli says that in his 16 years in the job he has not heard of any rape or murders in the UM campus. UM's security office promotes the concept that safety is everyone's responsibility, not just the security guards.  

Rosli has 140 staff at his disposal to ensure the security of the campus. He says UM's security office works on the 3Es – engineering, education and enforcement. 

“Engineering in the context of security and safety means that a building or place has CCTV, good signboards etc.” 

The office also gives educational talks at residential colleges on safety while under the Universities and University Colleges Act, enforcement officers can fine or discipline students for breaking university rules. 

To improve security, UM is planning to put more lighting in certain areas and to increase its patrols after 7pm. The security office is also putting feedback forms at its information centres “so students can tell us where the problem areas are and the places they would like to be made more secure.''  

Chin says that at Sedaya, students must produce their ID cards upon entering the college but adds that it is not compulsory for them to wear the tags while on college premises as many consider the tag “unfashionable”. 

Sedaya has installed more than 30 computerised checkpoints in the college to ensure that the guards are actually doing their rounds. “We are also looking to hire female security guards.” 

 

Students' views 

Tan Chui Chin, 23, and Wong Wai Kuan, 23, are both third year students at the Arts and Social Science Faculty in Universiti Malaya. 

Although they have not heard of any cases of students being attacked in UM, Wai Kuan feels that UM should be fenced up to make it less open to outsiders. 

“Students who leave late at night should always ensure they have somebody to accompany them home or to their hostel.” 

First year student, Valarmathi Sonaiyan, 21, from Kedah, says she only goes out in a group to KL and tries to come back before darkness falls. 

“Since I am from another state, I don't really know to how to get around this city. As a rule, I don't go out alone at night. But generally, I find UM to be safe; when I need to go back to my hostel, I always make sure someone is with me. 

Fatma Zuhra Abdullah, a member of the Students Representative Council (MPP) in UM, says that as a resident of First College, she feels safe since the security guards are always about their rounds. 

Fatma adds that the UM security guards are very strict and undergraduates detected at common places or public areas in UM after midnight are asked to go back to their hostel or house. 

Shahril Fadli Ibrahim says that the safety level at UM is satisfactory although there is no 100% guarantee. “Male undergraduates here also do their part by accompanying female students back to their hostel, especially if it is after midnight. 

Olympia College student James Mathew Fernandis, 17, says college students need to be more aware and take responsibility for their own safety especially in Kuala Lumpur. 

“KL is no different from other big cities, everyone has to be vigilant. For example, women should wear bags with shorter shoulder straps and if possible keep their valuables in their pockets,'' he says.  

Mohd Rizal Abdul Rashid, 22, says professional security guards should be employed and surveillance cameras installed in secluded areas of the college to deter outsiders from entering the college grounds. 

Shahrina Kassim, 20, recalls an eerie incident, which took place on her way home from college about 10 months ago. 

“I was heading to the Putra LRT station when a man signalled me to go towards him. For some strange reason, I did as he said and what transpired after that is still vague in my memory,” she adds. 

Twenty minutes later, she realised that her purse containing RM150 and a gold necklace were missing. 

“He must have put me under a spell or jampi and I handed my belongings to him; that incident showed me that there are times when a person can be defenceless.” 

Nineteen-year-old Lee May Ling says it is not silly or illogical to believe that black magic has been used in such cases and “we should arm ourselves with knowledge on how to counter these evil influences.”  

 

Courting couples 

Popular dating spots for young couples include university parks, hostel corridors, and other quieter areas on campus. Whether in pairs or groups, students who frequent such places are still vulnerable to danger. 

Fatma says that there are two spots in Universiti Malaya, Varsity Lake and `Bukit Cinta' , (after the Tenth Residential College) which are popular with courting couples. “The security guards do go on their rounds and advise them to disperse.''  

On June 28, two teenage girls, aged 17 and 18, became the latest victims of violent crime when they were abducted from their boyfriends at a popular lovers haunt in Ampang and gang-raped.  

When the boyfriends tried to save them, the robbers pointed parangs at them and threatened to kill the four of them. The abductors drove off even as the boyfriends gave chase on their motorcycles. 

This has created more awareness among courting couples. Raimi Rusydi Rodi is more alert of his surroundings when he brings his girlfriend out on dates. 

“I am more careful and prepared. The safer places to go to would be shopping malls or the cinema where there is a larger crowd. But we have also resorted to spending more time at home rather than outdoors,'' he said.  

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