Safety systems updated to include neighborhood assistant program

New security focuses on securing the interior and exterior of residence halls (Photo courtesy of Mason Housing).
New security focuses on securing the interior and exterior of residence halls (Photo courtesy of Mason Housing).

The Office of Housing and Residence life has entered into a new partnership with the Mason Office of Physical Security after ending their contract with Securitas, an external security firm, in July. OHRL has also started a new student neighborhood assistant program that works closely with the Office of Physical Security to ensure safety in the residence halls.

“The neighborhood assistant program is not a security program,” said Michelle Coleman, assistant director of community standards within the office of Housing and Residence Life. “They focus on the interiors of residence halls, but they certainly check exterior doors to make sure they are secure.”

According to Coleman, the neighborhood assistants provide the Office of Physical Security, an office of the Mason Police Department, an additional level of support in keeping the residence halls safe. Neighborhood assistants focus on the interior of the residence halls, while the Office of Physical Security is responsible for monitoring the outside of these halls.

Coleman said that while OHRL enjoyed a relationship with Securitas, they decided to use a Mason group to perform the task of keeping the perimeters of residence halls secure.

“There was a desire to rethink and to utilize services that are Mason based. Physical security was a natural partnership for us to develop. They are here on campus and have that relationship with the police department. They are very familiar with Mason specific policies and are much on board with that student focus,” Coleman said.

Coleman said that financial reasons were not the primary reason for replacing Securitas with the Office of Physical Security but is considered in all decisions.

“We are able to provide a lot of great service for similar cost,” Coleman said.

The Office of Physical Security’s services in the residence halls will vary depending on the time of year. According to Coleman, they will be more active during winter break because the buildings will be mostly empty.

Denise Taylor, the executive director of Housing and Residence Life, came up with the idea of the neighborhood assistant program.

“She is always looking for ways to increase the number of student employees and so her thought was to develop this program,” Coleman said.

Student neighborhood assistants work from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night and look for problems related to facilities, conduct health and safety inspections, and see to anything that comes up during their walk through of the residence halls.

“Our neighborhood assistants have a lot of training related to facilities and who to refer to within the department. They are focused on relationship building and being a helpful presence,” Coleman said. “The security office is focused on the exterior and on the security piece of it.” 

Christopher Deane, a sophomore applied information technology major, is a neighborhood student manager for the neighborhood assistant program. He has been working with all of the neighborhood assistants, primarily with health and safety inspections.

“The most challenging part of working with this program is the night hours,” Deane said.

Coleman said that she hopes the neighborhood assistant program is being viewed positively by students.

“We [see] them as helping to build community. They are intended to be a really helpful presence,” Coleman said. 

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