Five years after the Department of Public Safety created the Silent Witness program, the number of tips per month has not increased, according to DPS officials.
The Silent Witness program is a reporting system on the DPS website that allows students to report criminal activity anonymously.
As the program itself doesn’t require much funding, if any at all, DPS is not upset that the program is generating only one tip per week. DPS Detective Josh Voyda said, however, that DPS’s goal has been to increase the number of incidents reported to them.
“We can’t do anything about incidents if we don’t know about them,” Voyda said. “We want to provide a way for people to tell us about things when they are concerned about their identity being discovered.”
Christen Lazarcheck, a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism, said she was verbally harassed last week while riding her bike on the sidewalk.
She said if she had known about the Silent Witness program, she would have been more likely to report the incident because of its close proximity to campus.
“I wouldn’t go up to a DPS person in person,” Lazarcheck said. “I’d report it online, anonymously, telling that someone just cussed me out just for DPS to be aware.”
Some students say they are not even aware the program exists.
“It really isn’t talked about, I’ve never heard the name before,” said Bess Benhamou, a sophomore majoring in international relations. “It’s not like we have to put a lot of money into the program, but then again there’s not much point of having it if no one really knows about it.”
When the program first began, Voyda said there were some efforts to raise awareness. He said he is unsure if it has continued since, however.
“Initially when it came out, there was some promotion on it and it was very prominently featured on the DPS webpage,” Voyda said. “However, there is a constant turnover in the population of USC.”
Alexa Mateen, an undeclared sophomore, said she believes students would utilize the Silent Witness program if they knew about it.
“I’m not sure why DPS hasn’t informed us, but they should try to inform the students through e-mail or on campus,” Mateen said. “If kids hear about this they would probably use it to their advantage.”
According to Voyda, the most common crimes reported through the Silent Witness program are suspicious activity and people loitering in unusual places. He said, however, that there have been some instances of students using this program inappropriately.
“Silent Witness is not a way to report a crime in progress or a loud party that needs immediate attention,” Voyda said. “We often come in on Monday morning and find that a tip was submitted on Saturday night about someone trying doors or tampering with bicycle locks.”
Whether much of the USC community knows about the program is questionable, but Voyda said he thinks the program would be more frequently used if more people knew about it.
“I know that there are a good number of people that are aware of it, enough of them that do send us stuff,” Voyda said. “But I don’t know how many of them are simply browsing the DPS website or if they came to the website knowing it was there.”
Voyda said DPS puts out a lot of information to the community so they do not plan to use other publicity measures to promote the program.
“It seems that people find it. When people start looking for ways to contact us and they come to the website, they tend to come across that as a possible way to report something,” Voyda said. “It’s mentioned on the bottom of every crime alert so hopefully if people are reading it, that’s how they can find out about the program.”
Kristin Yinger, a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism, said that although she doesn’t necessarily feel unsafe on campus, she felt the program would get more usage if students were familiar with it.
“If I were further from campus, past The Row, I would definitely use it on the Portland or Adam areas,” Yinger said. “If I felt unsafe and knew about this, I would use the program.”
Another program that enables students to report crime or suspicious behavior anonymously is the USC Trojans Care for Trojans program. Students can text 274637 with “TC4T,” a description of the situation and the location in the text. The number is blocked from DPS officials, so everything is completely anonymous.
Although the TC4T program is a more immediate approach than the Silent Witness program, Voyda said the online approach is more effective.
“The Silent Witness Program is the most effective way to receive the information anonymously because it has been around longer,” Voyda said. “You can put more information into the Silent Witness form than you can into a text message. If you want to fully explain a problem, you can do so more explicitly than with a text message.”