Two reported assaults that prompted campus-wide alerts in October and November have University of Montana’s safety escort service working to meet an uptick in demand from students.
A man was tackled and dragged to a doorway behind Washington-Grizzly Stadium Oct. 24, as he was following his two friends down stairs in the corridor between Washington-Grizzly Stadium and the recreation center.
“Some people that would call would have to wait upwards of 25 minutes,” said Brandon Nally, a GrizWalk student employee, after the first reported assault.
Several callers told employees the report of the attack led them to use GrizWalk.
A second reported attack occurred on Nov. 18, when a UM student reported being chased by an unknown person carrying a blade on the west side of McGill Hall.
Nally said GrizWalk employees went through another a three-day spike in requests following the November assault report. Campus police have been unable to identify a suspect in either report.
Nally has not picked up any students who reported being chased or attacked, but he has called dispatch on a few occasions to report suspicious people who wandered onto campus, he said.
Two students on duty received six back-to-back calls in one hour because of the assault and cold weather, Nally said.
The increased calls from students reminded student supervisor Isabella Francavilla of the influx of calls after an incident last year. A student was chased by a man, and Francaville and another employee watched the man flee.
Although misbehavior, including being drunk and belligerent, can prompt GrizWalk employees to ban a student from using the escort service, Francavilla said GrizWalk has not blacklisted any students this year.
Nally and Francavilla said they expect to see a decrease in calls in the coming week, as the weather warms up and the time since the attack lengthens.
“Each night’s just really different,” Francavilla said.
Francavilla emphasized the service’s goal to prioritize student safety by offering immunity to intoxicated students that use GrizWalk.
“At the end of the day we just want you guys home safe, that’s all we really care about,” Francavilla said.
GrizWalk picks up students in a golf cart or a decommissioned police vehicle known to employees as the “Goose.” The golf cart only carries two passengers and the “goose” only seats three people.
According to Francavilla, the current vehicles are expected to be upgraded to utility task vehicles, which seat four students and have heat and doors. The Goose and cart currently need repairs, Francavilla said. “It’s time to move on from them.”
With a limited number of student employees available to accompany students, University of Montana police officers respond whenever GrizWalk can not. Fracavilla said that UMPD officers take over for GrizWalk at midnight during the week and 1:00 a.m. on weekends.
When students who call the GrizWalk hotline do not receive a response, they are immediately connected to UMPD dispatch.
According to Lt. Giffin, officers average six to eight escorts a night.
“That’s a fairly consistent number for us. Sure, it takes an officer off a patrol, but it ensures that everyone gets to where they need to safely,” Giffin said.
Regarding the most recent assault, Giffin said investigators received tips from several anonymous sources, but no progress has been made to identify a suspect. He said anyone with information should contact UMPD at (406) 243-6131.