The night begins in a small room found through an access door down the hallway to the bathrooms on the Marshall Center’s first floor. It’s an area seen by few, but the members of the USF SAFE (Safe and Free Escort) Team. On top of a large L-shaped desk sits three computers; lying near the front of the desk is a collapsed mushroom chair.
The phone rings, “SAFE Team…I’ll have a team there in 15 to 20 minutes. Thank you.” Before dispatcher Matt Perry finishes telling a team where they need to go, the phone rings again.
Mike Hathaway and Connor O’Toole sit in the SAFE Team office waiting for their shift to begin. They are wearing the easily recognized neon-collared shirts with the SAFE Team phone number printed on the back, (813) 974- SAFE. O’Toole, however, chose to pair his with a blue patterned tie tonight.
For these two SAFE Team employees, the night may begin in this room, but the majority of their 5-hour shift is carried out patrolling the campus via golf cart and providing rides when dispatch calls. It’s their job to provide escorts to students on campus using golf carts. Both men began working for SAFE Team during their freshman years and have loved it ever since. O’Toole is a telecommunications and production major while Hathaway is a medical technology major.
SAFE Team is a group of students who provide escorts around campus after dark. The service is meant to keep students safer at night. By providing escorts, the team is trying to cut down on the number of potential robberies and rapes that could occur. The group is funded by student fees through Student Government. They currently use golf carts to pick up students and drive them to their on-campus destinations. Soon however, there will be a change to the current golf cart system.
Once Hathaway and O’Toole decide who will drive the cart, they pick the one labeled ‘N’, their designated cart for the night. They document the condition of the cart and ready themselves for their first task. To get out of the center of campus, which is a pedestrian-only zone, Hathaway carefully navigates the golf cart through a winding, narrow path: first right, then another right, and around the tree to avoid the stairs. The larger the pedestrian zone becomes, the harder it is for the SAFE Team to assist students.
Some students have said SAFE Team is no more than an escort service, but members are making strides to place more focus on the safety aspect of their job. The major shift began in late 2009, when SAFE Team became a hybrid organization run by both University Police and Student Government.
When the organization began in 1976, it was a volunteer group that wanted to help students by walking them to their destination. It later moved to a Student Government service and the golf carts were added. With the addition of UP management, SAFE Team has added the tasks of patrolling areas of campus and helping with night events, according to SAFE Team’s Director, Scott Nee. This year SAFE Team assisted during Week of Welcome by passing out flyers regarding pedestrian safety. They have also begun helping UP with the Bike Anti-Theft Registration Program.
Due to the lack of use, Nee believes that students are unaware of the Sober Ride program that SAFE Team offers for students who are 21 or older and who decide to drink at a Hillsborough County bar. A call to the SAFE Team results in a cab being dispatched, a program paid for by Pepin Distributing.
With the move to police department management, a stricter hiring policy was put in place. Employees now go through background checks and drug tests before being hired. SAFE Team has 40 employees, which is under its typical 45 to 50 employees. Nee hopes they will be able to hire more staff soon as there has been a recent delay with the Human Resources department.
The new management and stricter hiring policy has led to greater professionalism and a better relationship with UP. While SAFE Team is not allowed to intervene when they come across illegal activity, they do have the responsibility of reporting to UP immediately.
O’Toole and Hathaway found nothing strange as they patrolled around the Greek Village parking lots at the beginning of their 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. shift.
“November to base,” O’Toole radioed.
“Go ahead November,” Perry replied. O’Toole replied with a 10 code and the parking lot number. Each time one of the two man teams patrols an area they radio in to dispatch and let them know the area is safe.
Back at base, Perry adds the information and the time to the spreadsheet on his computer known as the base log. Every ride request made to the SAFE Team is also documented and golf carts are tracked via GPS systems.
“November,” the radio sounds.
“Go ahead for November,” O’Toole replies.
“I need you to pick up a ‘Brenna’ at the gym going to Juniper,” dispatch directed.
“10-4,” was the reply.
Once at the gym, the golf cart was approached by a woman. “Are you waiting for me?”
“Are you going to Juniper?” asked the team.
“Yeah,” replied Brenna Lynch.
A freshman majoring in Physics, Lynch uses SAFE Team services at least once a week. She began calling on SAFE Team during her first week at USF. As a new student on campus, she didn’t want to get lost, especially at night.
Upon reaching Juniper Hall, SAFE Team told Lynch to have a good night and called in to base letting the dispatcher know they had dropped off the client.
No sooner had the team dropped off Lynch than they received another response from dispatch to pick up someone from Juniper and take them to the Marshall Center.
Marina Saad was the second student of the night requiring the assistance of SAFE Team. A freshman majoring in biomedical sciences, it was her first time calling SAFE Team for a ride. She had to work on a project in the Marshall Center and didn’t want to walk the distance alone.
The third escort O’Toole and Hathaway carried out this busy night was the longest possible ride they could give. They picked up a student at the corner of USF Pine Drive and Bruce B. Downs Blvd and dropped her off at ON50 apartments near the corner of USF Holly Drive and 50th Street.
By 10:00 p.m., November team had taken three escorts and patrolled the Greek Village. After checking a few more areas and a parking garage they were called to do another escort.
The total number of rides that SAFE Team gives each night varies depending on the number of exams and events. On this Thursday night, they escorted 124 people. They typically use at least 5 to 6 golf carts per night.
A drastic change in the average number of people escorted may occur soon. SAFE Team is considering switching to walking teams for the early and middle shifts. They would still run at least one golf cart for long escorts and when escorting injured or handicapped students. SAFE Team is still planning to run two carts for the late shift, according to O’Toole and Hathaway.
The switch to walking teams would cut down on potential cart issues like wear and tear or accidents while still providing a safe service on campus. SAFE Team believes that students who use the service for safety reasons will still call in while those who are just looking for a quick ride will be greatly disappointed.
To get a SAFE Team escort, call (813) 974- SAFE from 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.