Senate proposes DPS endorse virtual safety app

Appearance of the open application from a smartphone screen.

Truman State’s Department of Public Safety now is considering alternative options for campus safety after students and organizations proposed to endorse virtual escort apps.

With the increased use of technology, colleges across the country have begun to investigate mobile apps available for student safety. In-state schools, such as the University of Central Missouri and the University of Missouri, already have put mobile device resources to use, including the Campus Eye, and SafeTrek apps.

Senior Zach Hollstrom, Student Government Health, Safety and Wellness committee chair, says he proposed that DPS endorse the Companion app two weeks ago.

“I thought it was a really interesting idea that a lot of campuses were starting to pick up on,” Hollstrom says. “It’s kind of a new thing, and I thought it would be cool if Truman was one of the first schools to fully integrate it.”

Companion was created by five students at the University of Michigan and tracks users’ locations on a virtual map while they walk. If the user stops, has their headphones pulled out, or gives any indication of needing assistance, the app asks for a response from the user. Without a response, Companion will call for help from authorities and user-designated contacts.

DPS Director Sara Holzmeier says though she likes the idea of integrating mobile apps, significant research is needed before DPS would endorse them.

“I just haven’t gotten to a point where I’ve met with enough people to say what we would like to go with as a university or what we would like to endorse. It’s still in the talking stages at this time, but I think apps on your phone are the wave of the future, and it is kind of cool.”

– Sarah Holzmeier, Department of Public Safety Director

Holzmeier says Companion potentially could take the place of SAFE, Truman’s courtesy patrol where students can call a DPS officer or student security to escort them to their destination.

TeamE_TMN2_SafetyTipsHolzmeier says she also has been introduced to the Circle of 6 app, which lets users choose six friends to send pre-programmed messages and their exact location to in the event of an uncomfortable situation.

Companion and Circle of 6 are free of charge to download for Android and iPhone. Holzmeier says endorsing these apps would not cost the University, which makes them preferable to paid apps.

Crime in the Kirksville community remains low, according to the 2015 Security and Fire Report. Despite the area’s lack of crime, Holzmeier says any additional peace of mind doesn’t hurt.

“I don’t want people to think just because it’s not St. Louis or Kansas City, they shouldn’t take the extra steps to protect themselves,” Holzmeier says.

Holzmeier says she currently is working with a Title IX group to ensure the best decision is made in endorsing an app. She says for the University to endorse any of the apps, it needs to conduct more research and will continue to speak with other colleges, but she urges students to try out apps for themselves in the meantime.