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Speaking Out

Important Safety Advisory

On January 21, an “Important Safety Advisory” from Maureen Rush, Vice President for Public Safety, and Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, Vice Provost for University Life, was sent via e-mail to all faculty and staff (and likely students) regarding an incident with a female Penn student who reported being sexually assaulted near 40th & Pine Street. The incident reportedly occurred at approximately 2:45 a.m., as the female student was walking home—alone—after having attended a party.

On December 28, a staff member was shot in the face during a robbery at approximately 6:20 p.m. while walking to a car near his home at 45th & Pine Street. No safety advisory was distributed. No public acknowledgement of this incident has been made by any University officials. Yes, this incident occurred during the University’s holiday break. This does not, however, “erase” the fact that it did, indeed, occur. Much of the University community reads e-mail during break, or would have read an e-mail sent during break upon return.

This University encourages faculty and staff to purchase homes in the near West Philadelphia community—including the location in which the December 28 incident took place.

This letter is in no way intended to minimize the horrific impact of the crime reported to have occurred to the student.

With all of this said, what, then, is a faculty or staff member (or student!) to “take away” from the apparent (or perceived) obfuscation of the December 28 incident? That the University cares more for the safety of its students than faculty or staff? That only crimes against women are worthy of advisories? (As a woman who has been the victim of a sexual assault, I would be extremely offended by such a notion.) That the University does not want a crime that occurred during a low-risk activity and time of day (versus a crime that occurred when one could say “she shouldn’t have been out at that time by herself”–thereby transferring blame to the victim) known by the general University public?

Many in the Penn community are pondering these questions. Has this individual been afforded the same attention, concern and care by those at Penn tasked with handling such situations, as the individual in the January 21 incident?

Why do many of us believe this incident has been “brushed under a rug” by Penn officials? 

—Name Withheld

Ed. Note: Almanac does not accept anonymous letters but does have a process for withholding the name of the writer. It requires that the writer’s identity be known to two persons, normally the editor and the chair of the Almanac Advisory Board, both of whom are pledged to confidentiality. This letter met the criteria for such publication.


The University of Pennsylvania and the Division of Public Safety care deeply about the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff. Whether they live on campus, in West Philadelphia, Center City or anywhere in the region, the University offers resources to people in need. 

The Division of Public Safety provides direct safety and security services for our community members living within the boundaries of 30th Street to 43rd, Market Street to Baltimore Avenue. While it is accurate to say that we do not extend our police patrols beyond these boundaries, we do, however, offer services through the Division’s Special Services Department to assist community members who may find themselves in need of support. Through the Special Services Department we offer victim support, referrals, court accompaniment and hospital visitation for community members, regardless of where they live. 

As noted by the writer of the letter, on December 28 there was a serious assault committed against a University staff member during a robbery outside of his home in the area of 45th and Pine Streets. The assault, which took place outside of the University of Pennsylvania Police Department’s patrol jurisdiction, is under the policing and investigative jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Police Department. Due to the status of the complainant as a University staff member, and the close proximity of the crime to our patrol jurisdiction, a University of Pennsylvania Police Department detective was assigned to respond to the hospital in order to acquire information from the victim and to assist the Philadelphia Police investigation.  Penn Police have worked diligently with the Philadelphia Police to pursue the individuals that perpetrated this horrific crime. The Division of Public Safety’s Special Services Unit has also assisted the victim since the inception of the incident.

The University cares deeply about the welfare of our community living west of 43rd Street and has supported programs that offer valuable safety, security and quality of life enhancements to the community. The University City District’s Public Space maintenance staff helps to keep the neighborhoods clean, while the Safety Ambassadors patrol on bike and foot west to 49th Street. Additionally, the University offers Walking Escorts (215-898-WALK) and Transit Services (215-898-RIDE) for Penn affiliates on campus and for those living west or east of campus.

The Division of Public Safety sends Almanac all Crimes Against Persons that were reported by the 18th District, covering the Schuylkill River to 49th Street, and Market Street to Woodland Avenue for publication in the 18th District Report. The DPS also sends Almanac a report of all criminal incidents reported and made known to the UPPD for the Community Crime Report. Information on this assault was printed in Almanac January 11 volume 51, number 16. In addition, the Philadelphia Police Detective Division’s Captain regularly provides information on crimes which occur in the community to the West Side Weekly newspaper. Unfortunately, during this time period the West Side Weekly was not publishing over the holiday season, therefore a notification of the crime was not included in any of its publications.

The Division of Public Safety is committed to enhancing the safety of the Penn and West Philadelphia communities. The Penn Police Department confers daily with the Philadelphia Police Department on all criminal incidents, trends and methods of operation (M.O.) of perpetrators. I chair a monthly meeting at our Headquarters that brings together the Philadelphia Police, Penn Police, SEPTA Police, Amtrak Police, Postal Police, Veterans Hospital Police Departments, UCD, Security Directors of Drexel, University of the Sciences, HUP, Presbyterian, and CHOP Hospitals Security Directors, just to name a few. At this meeting information is shared, projects are designed and new ideas arise that benefit the communities we serve.

To learn about ways you can enhance your safety and security visit the Division of Public Safety at www.publicsafety.upenn.edu.

To request a safety and security workshop call the Special Services Department at (215) 898-7515.

—Maureen S. Rush
Vice President for Public Safety

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday’s issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. —Eds.



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 20, February 8, 2005


February 8, 2005
Volume 51 Number 20


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