Staying Safe at KPU

Kwantlen’s Security Manager discusses security, precautions following alleged sexual assault in Richmond

Kat Nekuryashchikh / The Runner

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

These words come from manager of security at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Harry McNeil, as he addresses the importance of making sure KPU students keep safe on campus. Students are increasingly some of the busiest people in society, and as we settle into the fall semester and the accompanying hustle and bustle, students returning to class can so easily take for granted how safe the school grounds can feel.

On Sept. 16, just after 8:30 a.m., a female Kwantlen student approached a man on the Richmond campus who claimed to be a massage therapy student looking to give away complimentary massages. The man asked for her participation in completing a survey and the young woman agreed. Instead of receiving a massage, however, the woman allegedly became the victim of sexual assault.

If this sounds commonplace, it’s because university students are simply no strangers to sexual assaults. A CBC news investigation from earlier this year stated that more than 700 sexual assaults were reported from 87 Canadian colleges and universities in the past five years—that’s 11 victims per month across Canadian campuses that have reported the assault.

These statistics beg the question: what should students do if they feel at-risk on campus?

“Honestly, my advice for students would be to report any suspicious activity. Really, it’s as simple as if you see something, say something,” says McNeil, who was in charge of security during the mid-September assault at Richmond. “For the Richmond incident for example, I was called down by the RCMP. We were never notified and the issue went directly to the police, which means that had I not been called down by them we would not even have recorded the issue.”

It’s next to impossible to record every single sexual assault that happens throughout Canadian universities. One of the primary reasons for this is the fact that, after an assault, the victims faces daunting barriers which discourage them from seeking justice. According to a story published in June by the New York Times, the most common reasons behind the underreported nature of sexual assault crimes are the victims’ fear of having their anonymous status taken away; a  lack of knowledge regarding what constitutes sexual assault; and a fear of police institutions not taking their claims seriously.

Two of these barriers have a lot to do with issues between the victims, or relatives of the victims, and the authorities that deal with them. And it’s not just the RCMP who need to seek the victims’ collaboration, it’s also the responsibility of the school’s administration and security team to make sure that victims and students overall feel protected. So how well prepared is KPU security when dealing with these matters?

“We are extremely well prepared considering our size compared to, say UBC, and Kwantlen has several campuses so we really needed to tailor a security plan to fit each location,” says McNeil. “Another thing we have is experienced security officers. They’ve all got crisis intervention, they all have first aid, and they all have years in security background. KPU is really fortunate to have security officers that relate with the students and have an excellent rapport with everyone else that works here.”

Having trained and experienced personnel is one thing, but just as critical is a staff’s ability to identify and track these problems when they occur.

“Oh, we absolutely record these events,” says McNeil. “Our reports are very professional and we try to gather as much information as frequently as we can. If a student sees something suspicious and contacts us, we’ll record it. We’d rather deal with something right away even if it’s nothing—as I say, it’s better to deal with a fire by stepping on the cigarette than when its 20 acres long.”

There is no such thing as too many resources when dealing with security matters. Reducing these incidents is dependant on interaction between law enforcement and the general public, that both groups communicate and provide information. Understanding how security at Kwantlen works can be the first step towards familiarizing yourself with how to best remain aware and, ultimately, safe.

“Security at Kwantlen is contracted to a company, Concord, which signed a contract with the university,“ explains McNeil. “This contract is overseen by me and gives me the power to be the university’s voice when it comes to any security issues. I am the head of security at Kwantlen and I answer to the VP of administration, who in turn answers to the VP of finance.”

According to McNeil, safety requires the cooperation of the security team and Kwantlen students. It could be as simple as walking someone to their car if it’s dark and empty in the parking lot, or reporting suspicious activity to the security officers even though it could be a false alarm. Reports claim that the male who allegedly assaulted the Richmond student was not a Kwantlen student at all, and had already approached nine other people, none of whom contacted any security officer or RCMP staff. There will always be outside factors that we have no control of—however, the more we all do our part and mitigate any unsafe acts we do have control of, the more we can all enjoy a safer stay at Kwantlen.

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