By Kurt Ingram and Jennifer McGregor
Walk north on Yonge Street, past the four-storey lights of the Eaton Centre and the reassuring eyes on the street-front billboards.
Keep going past the fluorescent pink HMV sign and the spinning red discs of Sam the Record Man.
Turn right at Gould Street, a two-lane street of nooks, crannies and shadows. Keep your head down.
On the left is a faceless Kerr Hall, separated from the sidewalk by rows of bushes. The floodlights at the base of the south wall turn those bushes into intimidating entities lurking around the first-floor windows. The chances of someone hiding behind Egerton Ryerson’s statue appear more and more likely as you approach.
On the right are Lake Devo’s boulders, a potential rapist’s paradise, out of sight of everyone’s eyes.
Ryerson isn’t the most popular place to walk on a frigid, dusky night, but despite its intimidating, dark location, the people in black who patrol the campus say it’s as safe as it ever was, considering its downtown location.
Security reporters to Ryerson’s board of governors from 1995 to 1997 (more recent figures have yet to be approved by the board before being made part of public record) show no major jump in the number of serious crimes on campus.
Between 1995 and 1998 (figures from the last year were obtained from the campus equity, harassment and safety office), the number of assaults, sexual assaults and assaults causing bodily harm remained steady.
In 1998, security dealt with 15 common assaults, which are incidents such as shoving that cause no injuries, down from a high of 25 in 1995. Nine assaults causing bodily harm were reported, up from a low of 1 in 1997. No sexual assaults were reported in 1998, two were reported in 1997, and one was reported in each of 1996 and 1995.
“I think Ryerson is very safe,” said Chris Beninger, the operations supervisor of security and safety, which looks after Ryerson’s 22,000 full and part-time students. “The campus is a very safe place.”
Other campus crimes that are in decline include the number of weapon calls, which decreased to 2 in 1997 from 7 in 1995.
The number of incidents of indecent exposure has remained steady, with 20 occurrences in 1998 compared to 22 in 1995.
Not all statistical trends are positive — for example, there were 11 stalking calls in 1997 as compared to one only two years before — but people whose job it is to keep the Ryerson community secure believe the campus is safer than most people think.
“They have more of society’s less fortunate,” Staff Sergeant Michael Fenwick, of Toronto police’s 52 Division, said of the campus’ neighbourhood. “But there’s no real problems.”
Fenwick said he thinks Ryerson is at a disadvantage because of its downtown location — dark alleyways and corridors can provide problems — but said security staff does an excellent job of keeping the campus safe.
Janet Mays, director of campus equity, harassment and safety services, says our urban locale can work to Ryerson’s advantage. “The fact that Ryerson is a downtown location in many regards makes it safer,” she said. “We have streets going right through campus.”
Since 1996, Ryerson has had a direct liaison to the police’s community response unit and street crime unit, in case things get out of hand.
And although September has seen a rash of peeping and indecent exposure incidents, security officials note these types of occurrences have happened in the past but stand out because of their frequency.
“There’s not a rash of crime there,” Fenwick says.
Lawrence Robinson, the manager of security and safety at Ryerson, has overseen the installation of exterior lighting and more cameras to cut down on potential hiding places.
A five-person team watches over the campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week, out of security headquarters at 111 Bond St. In addition to that, between 10 and 15 other security personnel occupy permanent positions such as the front desks of residences and monitor the campus’ thirty-plus video cameras.
“I feel safe because there are a lot of people around,” said Tranos, a first-year nursing student. “It’s not like you’re ever by yourself.”
Security also escorts students anywhere on campus, audits buildings for any safety concerns, maintains seven emergency “blue phones” and provides informative courses to students such as RAD (Rape Aggression Defense). Students can also dial 80 from any Ryerson phone to reach security in seconds, and keep up with safety issues by reading the 37 bulletin boards posted around campus.
Numbers and statistics, however, still don’t replace the fear in some students’ minds.
We’re still a downtown campus, said Jean Golden, a Ryerson sociology professor who used to run the security department.
“You walk around the streets late at night, you might be robbed,” she said. “But anybody who walks in the downtown area has to be aware of that.”