VANCOUVER – The RCMP’s Major Crimes Unit has taken over the investigation into a series of late-night assaults against female students at the University of British Columbia as officials work to increase safety measures at the Vancouver campus.
The third attack in three weeks involved a man grabbing the woman from behind, ripping her nylons and punching her in the face as she walked to her residence.
Sgt. Drew Grainger of the RCMP’s university detachment said the latest victim suffered a black eye and that the escalating violence has led police to focus more resources on finding the suspect who’s been described in each case as tall, thin, wearing a black hoodie and being in his late 20s.
Police met Monday with UBC administrators and officials from campus security and student housing to discuss the use of more lighting and video cameras to protect students and prevent other types of crimes.
“It’s at the highest levels of the university, it’s at the president’s office now and they are in discussions to come up with a financial strategy to try and enact some of these suggestions,” Grainger said.
He said the group will be meeting every second day to continue discussing other concerns while at least one perpetrator is on the loose.
RCMP also recommended that the hours of the university’s free Safewalk program, which operates between 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., be extended because of two of the attacks have happened at 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m.
Students call a number to have two students, employed by the Alma Mater Society, walk them home or elsewhere on campus.
Grainger said a brochure with safety tips has also been placed in the lobbies of student residences.
“There’s an absolute heightened awareness, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s really put into focus just how vulnerable young people can be in an environment such as this when they’re not taking proper precautions.”
In each of the three attacks, the female students aged 17, 18 and 20 were walking alone between midnight and 3:30 a.m.
Louise Cowin, vice-president of students, said the building operations team will do an audit of lighting and camera needs to determine ways to improve safety.
“We really do take the matter before us with the utmost seriousness and we’re doing everything we can to try and keep the campus safe.”
Janice Robinson, director of the university’s nine residential complexes for undergraduates and graduate students, said the university sent an email alert to students, staff and faculty hours after the latest attack at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday.
That night, emergency floor meetings were held to inform students about safety tips, address their questions and make them aware that police and campus security had increased resources.
“We wanted them to know that both the RCMP and campus security had added additional patrols after the second incident and those would continue and that there was a co-ordinated effort to work diligently to catch the person responsible.”
Robinson said students were also advised to not walk alone at night, ensure their friends didn’t either and to put the numbers for Safewalk and a cab company into their phones.
“Our other message was that to say that if something should happen to you or someone you know to call 911 immediately and not to wait or worry if you’ve been drinking,” she said.
Staff also went door-to-door at the upper-year and grad residences, Robinson said, adding students are banding together to care for each other.
“Most students are taking it very seriously and there’s an element of nervousness. But our message to students is ‘Don’t be scared, but be smart. Be thoughtful about ensuring you make good choices and walk together.’
“My biggest concern would be that the RCMP are able to catch the responsible person and stop it.”
Director of campus security Barry Eccleton said the number of patrols has been increased. The area already gets patrolled 24 hours a day, and a 24-hour phone line is available to anyone who feels unsafe around campus, he said.
UBC arts student Danica Ferguson and engineering student Alexa Dumaine both said hearing about the assaults has them re-thinking the way they travel around campus at night.
“Personally, I wouldn’t be walking around campus at 3 a.m. by myself anyway, but if I was going to be, previously, I wouldn’t have called people to come walk with me, or campus security to come walk with me,” Dumaine said.
“But I think now I definitely would because I feel that the frequency of the attacks definitely makes me feel less safe on campus.”
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