Temple Times Online Edition
    DECEMBER 8, 2005
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Owl Watch: The eyes and ears of Temple

Photo by Karen Shuey
Members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity Brad Rittle (left) and Charles Woodford get ready for a night of “owl watching” by putting on the reflective vests and testing the security radios. Rittle and Woodford were only two of the 14 members to volunteer their time to Owl Watch, making the streets of the Main Campus a little safer.

It’s 9:03 on a Thursday night. Fourteen members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity strap on reflective yellow vests and test their radios. They set out down Berks Mall, pass a dozen students at the Bell Tower, and continue on toward University Village.

These guys aren’t going out to parties or pulling an all-nighter studying for exams. They’re on the watch — Owl Watch.

Owl Watch is Temple’s student-run night patrol, coordinated by the Department of Campus Safety Services.

“The program makes people who are on campus at night feel safer,” said Alpha Tau Omega president and environmental studies major John Firn. “We really try to take this seriously.”

The town watch service provides an opportunity for students to complete community service hours by volunteering to be “eyes and ears” for the University.

After receiving the support of Campus Safety Services and the Division of Student Affairs, Detective Joanne Wszolek developed the Owl Watch project and training program in the late 1990s.

Student teams patrol Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9 to 11 p.m., along Broad Street, Liacouras Walk and Berks Mall.

Owl Watch volunteers are the “extended eyes” for Campus Police, said Sgt. Monica Hankins, a member of Campus Safety special services, and the program’s coordinator.

They serve as a community night watch to report any suspicious activity to Campus Police, such as “someone walking too closely to cars or buildings, and they alert the department to broken glass on walkways,” Hankins explained. They also act as escorts for anyone walking on campus late at night.

Working in teams, the students patrol the most frequently traveled areas on Main Campus and popular “hot spots” around the perimeter of the University, and area that ranges north-south from Cecil B. Moore Avenue to Diamond Street, and east-west from 10th Street to 15th.

Although Owl Watch members are considered an extension of Campus Safety Services, they are told not to take action, Hankins stressed.

“The goal while on patrol is to see and hear everything,” Hankins said. “But they are only supposed to call the department so that professionals can handle the situation.”

Owl Watch volunteers can be easily identified by their eye-catching bright yellow, reflective vests.

Using security radios, they are in direct contact with Campus Police and each other throughout their shift.

Hankins said the program is also a way for students to take ownership and pride in their University.

“It’s all about getting involved in their school and their community. It helps to build school spirit and encourage teamwork,” Hankins said.

She credits the efforts of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity in helping to organize the program and recruit volunteers.

Charles Woodford, the fraternity’s vice president, said volunteering in the Owl Watch program has become a tradition over the years.

“[The fraternity members] know so many of the people living in the community and we like to look out for their safety,” said Woodford, a junior advertising major. “This is the best way for us to complete our community service hours while giving back to the University.”

Freshman Brad Rittle, an Alpha Tau Omega pledge, said he got involved because it’s a great way to build brotherhood in their fraternity.

“It keeps us doing something to help out with campus safety while at the same time allowing us to interact with each other,” the film and media arts student said.

This semester, Owl Watch has had more than 40 volunteers, including participants from athletic teams, Temple Student Government, residence halls and numerous other student organizations and individuals — as well as several faculty members and administrators.

“By raising awareness of safety issues, Owl Watch provides a vital link to Campus Safety Services,” Hankins said, “and their presence on campus is, in itself, a powerful deterrent to crime.”

- By Karen Shuey