SAFE Team short-staffed

An organization that provides students free, safe rides on campus at night was unable to do so for a two-hour period Tuesday because of staffing problems, an organization administrator said.

SAFE Team lacked the manpower to offer rides between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Tuesday, Director William Foote said.

Students who called SAFE Team during those hours heard an automated answering machine that said: “Unfortunately, we are not taking escorts at this time. We normally operate seven days a week year-round.”

Foote said the gap could have been avoided if SAFE Team were properly staffed. It’s unclear, however, whether staffing issues — and their effects on the escort program — could be easily resolved, because of difficulties hiring and retaining SAFE Team members.

“Being short-staffed really hurts our ability to fill the schedule,” said Foote, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering.

SAFE Team, an agency of Student Government, owns 19 golf carts to give students free rides to and from anywhere on campus between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. Ideally, SAFE Team operates about 17 or 18 carts a night, Foote said. SAFE Team had 10 employees on patrol Tuesday night — enough to operate five carts.

The average number of operating carts rarely approaches 17, but five carts is a particularly small team, Foote said.

A full-capacity SAFE Team would employ almost 40 people, he said. Right now, however, it employs 28 people with set shifts. Four others are on call.

Foote attributes this issue to the transitional nature of SG. People graduate or get different jobs, he said, joining and leaving SAFE Team frequently.

Students can still call University Police or AlliedBarton for safe rides, he said.

Foote admitted that SAFE Team’s inability to work at full capacity impacts the students.

“It’s hurting us, it’s hurting the campus, it’s hurting the student body,” he said. “It’s of great importance we provide the services to them for which they’ve paid.”

Since SAFE Team is an agency of SG, Activity and Services (A&S) fees fund the program. Students pay $8.79 per credit hour toward A&S fees, plus a $7 flat fee. This school year, SAFE Team received about $270,000.

David Cruz, a dispatcher for SAFE Team, said he doesn’t think the lack of employees hurts students’ safety.

“AlliedBarton is there for our safety,” he said. “This campus is a pretty safe place.”

He did say, however, that it’s difficult for SAFE Team members to get time off for class or exams because there are not enough people to fill their empty shifts.

SAFE Team also assists UP in patrolling the campus. UP spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross said SAFE Team’s staffing problems impacts UP’s ability to patrol, but not by much.

“There also are more eyes and ears from the security firm of AlliedBarton,” she said.

Student Body President Gregory Morgan said SAFE Team is in a complicated situation.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t discontinue our services completely.”

Most students said they haven’t experienced a problem with SAFE Team being able to pick them up.

Brent Higgins, a senior majoring in English, said he uses SAFE Team at least twice a week. He said it usually takes about 10 minutes for SAFE Team to pick him up from the Intramural Fields.

“It’s not unreasonable,” he said. “But I’d like it to be quicker.”

Other students were more concerned with SAFE Team’s driving than anything.

Patrick Shields, a freshman majoring in marketing, said he uses a long board skateboard to get around campus and has come close to getting hit by SAFE Team.

“My friends call them the ‘unsafe team,'” he said.

Austin Karr, a freshman majoring in biomedical science, said he uses SAFE Team at least once a day. He lives in Magnolia and said SAFE Team occasionally takes turns a little too fast for comfort.

“Sometimes they can drive a little crazy,” he said. “I don’t mind because I get there faster.”

The weather also plays a role in SAFE Team’s operation. The organization has a lightning detector that measures the proximity of lightning, and if it’s too close, SAFE Team will not offer rides, Foote said. Rain does not prompt ride cancellation.

While he is still hiring students for SAFE Team, Foote said it’s the hard work of employees that allows SAFE Team to operate at all.

“Obviously, we’re not able to operate at maximum capacity,” he said. “(But) we’ve got a lot of good workers here.”