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Firm to evaluate UMass security after alleged gang rape

10/22/12-Belchertown-Staff Photo by Dave Roback-From left, Caleb Womack, Adam T. Liccardi, and Emmanuel Toffee Bile walk in during the arraignment in Belchertown of four Pittsfield teens on alledged rape charges at the UMass-Amherst campus.

10/22/12-Belchertown-Staff Photo by Dave Roback-From left, Caleb Womack, Adam T. Liccardi, and Emmanuel Toffee Bile walk in during the arraignment in Belchertown of four Pittsfield teens on alledged rape charges at the UMass-Amherst campus. Purchase photo reprints »

UMass has hired Business Protection Specialists Inc. of Canandaigua, N.Y., to study safety protocols and equipment at the university’s six residence hall areas, as well as how the safeguards are applied by students, residence hall security and other members of the campus community.

In October, four Pittsfield men, ages 17 and 18, were arrested and charged with three to four counts each of rape. A UMass student says the men repeatedly sexually assaulted her in her dorm room. None of the alleged rapists is a UMass student.

The Pittsfield men were able to get around residence hall safeguards and enter the building. This left some students and parents wondering about campus safety.

“When you have an incident of this nature, you need to take a close look at what you’re doing,” said Edward F. Blaguszewski, UMass’ media director. “It was important to take a step back and look at security more closely.”

At UMass, residence hall doors are always locked. Resident students have swipe-cards to enter their buildings. For a non-resident to enter a dorm, it is policy at the university for that person to be signed in at the front desk by the person she or he is visiting. The front desk is occupied by a monitor.

In the October incident, three of the men were signed into the residence hall by a student, not the victim, who didn’t know them, officials said. One of the men entered the hall without signing in at all.

There are about 12,500 students who live in the 43 dorm buildings on the UMass campus. Students interviewed about campus security the day after the alleged rape said they consider the campus a safe place to live. Chiefly, they said, because none of the alleged rapists attends UMass. They also described dorm safety as adequate, though some noted that it can be easy to get around safeguards and enter a dorm without signing in.

Security evaluation

As part of security evaluation, the Business Protection Specialists will visit campus during spring break, March 18 to 22, to tour and inspect residence halls, security equipment and visitor access. The team will return to campus April 4 and 5 to see how security measures work when students are there.

The evaluation will focus on a variety of factors, including building access, safeguards, key control, communications, policies, procedures and practices, student security monitors and supervisors, educational efforts surrounding security and the relationship between the UMass Police Department and the residential life department. The consultants will meet with students, residence hall staff and resident assistants, among other people.

In addition, Blaguszewski said UMass is planning to email all students and residence hall staff a security survey that asks their opinions of dorm safety. Administrators hope to send the survey before spring break.

The plan is for Business Protection Specialists to issue a draft of its evaluation findings and recommendations in May. Once those recommendations are reviewed on campus, a final report will be issued.

Blaguszewski said the goal is to have any new safety procedures and equipment ready for review and implementation in the fall semester.

“We’ve been moving ahead on this pretty promptly,” he said. “We need to have the data in hand to get done what we need to do by the fall.”

Business Protection Specialists was selected by the university through a competitive application process that involved five firms. The company will be paid $39,584 for its work.

The security firm has previously worked with Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, SUNY Oswego and Cornell University.

Business Protection Specialists’ president, Frank Pisciotta, is a former chief of security at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. He has been certified as a security consultant by the International Association of Professional Security Consultants, according to a UMass statement.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@gazettenet.com.

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