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UBC invests $750,000 on campus safety improvements

Students walk between buildings on UBC campus in Vancouver, B.C., on October 29, 2013.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

With students set to descend on the University of British Columbia in a matter of weeks, and a man wanted in a string of campus sexual assaults still not caught, the school says it has taken several steps to improve safety.

UBC on Wednesday announced it has invested $750,000 in lighting and landscaping to create safer walking routes. The school also said it has strengthened the student Safewalk program and added more security bike patrols.

UBC has not yet made a decision on increasing its use of CCTV cameras.

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Ben Goold, a professor in the university's faculty of law and a member of a safety working group assembled in response to the assaults, said UBC is safe.

"We continue to be a very safe and secure campus. Obviously, the events of last year around sexual assaults that took place in and around the campus were very concerning. … Obviously, we're looking at ways to make it safer and more secure," he said in an interview.

The six attacks occurred between April and October, 2013, and prompted the RCMP to put more officers on campus than at any point in the university's history. Mounties released a composite sketch of the man believed to have carried out the assaults but no arrest was made.

Corporal Darren Lagan, an RCMP spokesman, said in an e-mail Wednesday there was no new information to release. He said the cases remain active under the special project unit of major crime.

The safety working group released its final report in May. It made a number of recommendations, including a call for improved visibility on campus.

The school's $750,000 investment in lighting and landscaping – about $375,000 for each – includes the installation of additional light fixtures, use of higher luminosity bulbs and the pruning of trees and vegetation near paths and light standards. The work has focused on the school's main walking paths, including those that link student residences to campus.

Arvind Gupta, UBC's president, wrote in a statement that the school is committed to "tangible, practical safety improvements."

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"We also agree with safety experts that ultimately the best crime prevention is a caring, connected and respectful community," he wrote. "This is why we'll also be focusing over the long term on education and community building initiatives."

UBC has pledged an additional $250,000 for education and awareness-building programs, the exploration of CCTV options and the development of communication tools – including a mobile phone security application.

Prof. Goold said the exact nature of the phone app is still being worked out, but the goal would be to make it easier for students to connect with campus security. He said research on CCTV cameras and their effectiveness has been mixed and inconclusive, and the university is engaging a consultant to study the issue.

The university said the Safewalk program will also be enhanced and will, for the first time, use vehicle transportation to get around campus faster.

Prof. Goold said the measures are not an indication that the university had grown complacent about student safety before the assaults.

"I think it's something the university has paid a great deal of attention to over the years. … I think the sexual assaults last year forced people to reflect and think, 'Is there more we could do?'"

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