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University police across state aim to make students feel safe

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:06:32 PM MST
Updated On: Nov 21 2013 09:25:24 AM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

From a special phone students can use for emergencies or ask a question, to a 24-hour service in which police will meet students and escort them home, police at universities across the state are working to ensure students feel safe.

Casey Gunter is a University of Montana Police Officer. He's come up with a program geared towards sexual assault awareness called Situational Awareness and Personal Safety, or SAPS for short, designed to build awareness.

"The focus needs to be on the perpetrator because, truly, they're the ones causing the issues and victimizing people," says Gunter.

He's available to talk to both men and women on and off-campus so they can feel safer. From the University of Montana to Montana State University, police say it's important students feel safe.

"We have very few stranger problems on campus, but that doesn't help if somebody's still afraid," says MSU Police Chief Robert Putzke.

It's why every year, students, faculty and police do a walk-through of campus at night, paying close attention to lighting, shrubs and trees that might need to be trimmed. Four or five years ago, police installed emergency, blue light telephones with the same goal in mind.

"They've got long sight lines, so you can see them from a long distance away, a blue light on top. One of the nicest features is they have both an emergency and a non-emergency function. So, when you go up to one, there's a red button for emergencies and a black button. Both of those buttons go to our 911 operators," explains Putzke.

MSUPD's own dispatch center is another way they help keep students safe. There are nine dispatchers to answer calls. The station, as a whole, is made up of 40 full-time members, 20 full-time officers and five part-time officers. It's the size of a small-town police department.

They have jurisdiction up to a mile outside of campus on university-related property like fraternities, as well as all property owned by the university system. However, they can conduct investigations related to MSU even beyond Bozeman city limits.

"We provide a pretty effective layer of patrol around campus," says Putzke.

Yet, Chief Putzke says it takes more than just police officers to keep student safe. He says, students must also do their part to protect themselves.