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Student Safety in a season of screams

Three+armed+robberies+perpetrated+by+an+individual+wearing+a+%E2%80%9CScream%E2%80%9D+mask+occurred+this+past+September+in+Shadyside.+%0A%0A
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Student Safety in a season of screams

Three armed robberies perpetrated by an individual wearing a “Scream” mask occurred this past September in Shadyside.

Three armed robberies perpetrated by an individual wearing a “Scream” mask occurred this past September in Shadyside.

Image via Flickr | Creepy Halloween Images

Three armed robberies perpetrated by an individual wearing a “Scream” mask occurred this past September in Shadyside.

Image via Flickr | Creepy Halloween Images

Image via Flickr | Creepy Halloween Images

Three armed robberies perpetrated by an individual wearing a “Scream” mask occurred this past September in Shadyside.

By Andrew O'Brien, For the Pitt News

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Pitt students who took to Oakland’s streets in costume this Halloween week had reason to think twice before donning a “Scream” mask.

The masked killer from that cult classic horror film is fictional, but the “Scream bandit,” who committed at least three armed robberies in Shadyside in September, is all too real — and Pittsburgh police haven’t caught him yet.

Students from Pitt and CMU live in Shadyside, and both schools sent email alerts in September to inform students of the situation. Pitt police officer Heather Camp advised students to trust their instincts and call for help if something doesn’t feel right.

“This time of year, people are going to play more pranks and joke around more,” Camp said, “but it’s not normal for someone to be following you down the street wearing a mask … don’t be paranoid, but keep your head on a swivel.”

Camp said she doesn’t expect to see a spike in violent crimes like the masked robberies in Shadyside during the week of Halloween, but she does anticipate a high number of parties on and around campus.

“The Oakland area will be saturated with police,” Camp said. “It’s a busier time, and we’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Safety resources available to the Pitt community include a campus police force comprised of about 100 commissioned officers ready to respond to crime 24/7; an Emergency Notification System that can alert students, staff and faculty to threats at a moment’s notice; and the Safe Rider shuttle service, which provides students with late-night transportation. More comprehensive information can be found at www.safety.pitt.edu.

For students who planned to go to parties on Halloween or consume any alcohol, SGB President Maggie Kennedy encouraged students to use the medical amnesty program, which allows them to request help for someone experiencing a drug or alcohol emergency without fear of repercussions under Pitt’s code of conduct. She cited the 2017 hazing death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza as the kind of incident the amnesty program could prevent from happening at Pitt.

“If you call the police and you stay with your friend and you’re cooperative, you won’t be referred for disciplinary action,” Kennedy said. “It’s important that students know that so they can get the help they need.”

However, University resources can only do so much to ensure the safety of Pitt’s thousands of students and employees.

Kennedy said she has rarely felt unsafe in Oakland or on campus, but takes precautions to avoid putting herself at risk on the streets.

“As a young woman, I always call a friend or a family member when I’m walking alone at night,” Kennedy said. “It’s something a lot of young women have to think about, something I’m sure people of all gender identities have to think about.”

Pitt police officer Mallory Skrbin recommends students remain aware of their surroundings and refrain from staring at their phones or using earbuds when walking the streets.

“If you don’t really have to go out at midnight or 2 o’clock in the morning, don’t go out,” Skrbin said. “Walk with a buddy, Uber — and if you do have to walk, take a route where streets are lit and more populated. Don’t take that shortcut through the alley. Just because it’s faster doesn’t mean it’s safer.”

Camp said alcohol intoxication is another factor that makes it more difficult for students to stay conscious of people and vehicles around them.

“Altering the state of mind doesn’t help with becoming a victim, because you’re not as aware, you’re not as alert,” Camp said.

Pitt’s annual crime disclosure report in 2017 included hundreds of arrests for liquor and drug law violations. Skrbin said alcohol in particular is often a factor in violent crime.

“When you look at assault, nine times out of 10, alcohol is involved,” Skrbin said.

Both Camp and Skrbin teach self-defense classes on campus. As instructors certified by the Self-Defense Awareness Familiarization Exchange (SAFE) Program, they educate their students about situational awareness, crime-prevention tactics and self-defense techniques. Although Oakland is a low-crime neighborhood, Skrbin said students still benefit from learning self-defense.

“We hope that nothing would ever happen, but things do happen,” Skrbin said. “We focus on giving the help and the resources that you need so you can survive if you’re attacked.”

Though SAFE classes are open to all genders, they are designed specifically for women, who are disproportionately victimized by crimes like sexual assault, domestic abuse and stalking.

These free, one-time and two-hour-long classes take place throughout the year. For information and scheduling, students are invited to contact Camp at hlc33@pitt.edu.

Camp urged members of the Pitt community not to second-guess themselves if they feel they are in danger — and said it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

“Don’t question yourselves. Don’t question whether you’re bothering the police,” Camp said. “We don’t want the hesitation on asking for help or calling for help for whatever reason.”

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Student Safety in a season of screams