New policy tightens MU residence hall security

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 | 5:15 p.m. CST; updated 7:49 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

COLUMBIA — Students living in about half of MU’s residence halls have to get used to a new security procedure at their halls’ front doors this semester.

The Department of Residential Life implemented a new safety policy regarding door locking in residence halls effective Dec. 13. Under the policy, doors to the living areas of residence halls are locked at all times.

"There should not be a situation where someone can just walk right in the front door and get to residential areas," said Frankie Minor, director of residential life.

This policy changes procedures in 11 of MU’s 21 residence halls. Those 11 halls do not have a secured door separating the lobby from the living area, so once a person enters the building, he or she has access to every floor of student rooms.

Previously, the main door of these halls was unlocked while a student staff member was behind the front desk. Under the new policy, all exterior doors have been locked 24 hours a day.

The other 10 residence halls have a separate door to the living area, allowing visitors to freely enter the building during daytime hours without having access to students’ hallways. The new policy does not affect security procedures in these halls.

One of the biggest challenges to making the policy effective is keeping nonresidents from "piggybacking" into the residence halls behind a student who swipes his or her ID, Minor said.

"It’s completely dependent on students' compliance with it," Minor said.

This semester, MU's on-campus residence halls can house as many as 6,011 students, Minor said. Last semester, about 57 percent of residents were women and about 43 percent were men.

"I know that people still get in because people just piggyback in all the time," MU freshman Lauren Alexander said. "It’s impossible to keep everyone out."

Alexander said that although there will be people who get around security procedures, she still feels safe in her residence hall, Gillett. She tries to do her part to keep strangers out of the hall, though, by holding the door only for people she knows.

"Typically, it’s someone I’ve seen come into the building before, so I’m fine with it, but if it’s someone else, I won’t make an extra effort to keep the door open," Alexander said.

The new policy does not affect access to classrooms within residence halls, as all classrooms are in buildings with a separate door to the living area. All dining facilities also remain accessible without a hall resident’s ID.

The policy change had been discussed several times in the past four or five years, Minor said. The Department of Residential Life, the Residence Halls Association and the MU Police Department took part in the discussion before making the decision to implement the policy this year.

"I think the timing was just right, both in terms of the technology, what we've already been doing to increase security and the students' understanding of the importance of that," Minor said.

Laws Hall is one of the residence halls affected by the policy. On Monday, MU police issued a release saying an assault occurred early Sunday morning. According to the Clery release, an unknown man entered a woman's unlocked room and assaulted her. The victim noticed another man in her room, and both men fled when she grabbed her phone to call the police, the release stated.

Minor said the Department of Residential Life is working closely with MU police to investigate the incident. Both men have since been identified, and the case has been reclassified as a sexual offense, according to a second Clery release issued Tuesday afternoon.

The Laws staff will discuss ways to improve the safety and security of the hall with students, as they have all year, Minor said. Notices have also been posted around the hall reminding students of safety procedures they can follow to prevent or report incidents.

As older residence halls are rebuilt or renovated, the Department of Residential Life will plan security measures that adhere to the new policy with the lowest level of student inconvenience.

"In some situations, it’s easier to add that second level of security," Minor said. "The other one is that we eliminate that need, or work around the need, to have the exterior door of the building unlocked because there’s a legitimate need for people to get in there."

For example, newly renovated Mark Twain Hall has a separate entrance for its dining facility, so nonresidents going there to eat do not have to enter the residence hall at all, Minor said.

Although Minor said student safety is the No. 1 priority of the Department of Residential Life, he does not want to overdo it.

"We don’t want them to be like prisons. We don’t want to keep all people out or all people in. They need to be students’ homes," Minor said. "We want them to be as safe as they reasonably can be but still feel like places students can call their home."

Alexander said the extra inconvenience doesn’t bother her. When she visits friends in halls whose doors are locked 24 hours a day, she just gives them a quick call and they let her in, she said.

Freshmen Adele Fritz agrees that the new policy is not a big deal, especially since residents already have to swipe their cards to get into their rooms.

"I think people will get used to it," Fritz said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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