USA (University of Pennsylvania) Winter public safety tips from Captain Nicole McCoy

As the holidays kick into gear, Reading Days approach, and campus begins to depopulate for Winter Break, it’s easy to stuff safety concerns to the back of the mind.

But the change of season and semester begs renewed awareness of surroundings. As packages start to pile up on doorsteps, opportunistic thefts become more likely. And as fewer people circulate around campus during the holidays and the first weeks of January, staying alert—or taking advantage of resources like the Walking Escorts or Special Property Checks programs—become key tools to preventing crimes. The Department of Public Safety’s Nicole McCoy, captain of the Penn Police Department, teases out some safety tips for the coming weeks.

Let’s start with general safety tips. Is there anything we should be aware of during this time of year?

While it is never the fault of the victim/survivor of a crime, there are specific patterns of criminal activity that we are mindful of during the holiday. There are a few steps you can take to empower and protect yourself.

One is to stay in well-lighted and populated areas, especially when you are unfamiliar with your surroundings. Always keep your personal items with you. Take Penn Transit to your destination, on or off campus, when possible. Walk with a friend or call for a free Walking Escort.

Penn Transit has just launched a new app called PennTransit Mobile. Be sure to download and use this great new app to access your free transit services.


What does the PennTransit Mobile app do?

All Penn community members with PennKey credentials should download the free app before needing to schedule or request a ride, as PennTransit Mobile has replaced the PennRides on Request app and is the only mobile application supported by Penn Transit.

The new free app offers several enhancements to riders’ previous on-demand experience including improved arrival estimates, the ability to see Penn Transit’s fixed-route and on-demand options on one screen, integration of bike sharing and walking options, and commonly requested campus points of interest

Penn Transit closes Saturday, Dec. 24, at 3 a.m.; regular hours resume on Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 3 a.m. Limited transportation service is available Dec. 26 to Jan. 2, 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., excluding Dec. 31. To request service, use PennTransit Mobile or call 215-898-RIDE (7433).


You mentioned the Walking Escort Program. Can you explain a bit more about this?

This is an excellent resource for our Penn and the greater local community. Uniformed Allied Universal Public Safety Officers provide free walking escorts, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The response time can vary, but an officer will usually respond within five minutes.

Officers will accompany the requestor to their destination, such as from one campus location to another, to their parked vehicle, to a Penn Transit stop, or a SEPTA transit stop located within the walking area, between 30th to 43rd streets and Market Street to Baltimore Avenue.

Escort services also extend west to 50th Street and north/south from Spring Garden to Woodland Avenue between 10 a.m. and 3 a.m. via the University’s partnership with the University District Ambassador Program. Again, anyone in the community, regardless of whether they have a Penn Card, can use these services.

To request a Walking Escort any time, ask any Public Safety Officer on patrol or inside a building, call 215-898-WALK (9255), or use one of the many building and blue-light Ephones located on and off Penn’s campus.

Also, we offer special Walk Backs during Reading Days and Finals at Van Pelt Library. A Public Safety Officer will be posted at the ‘Split Button’ on Locust Walk from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. from Dec. 13 to Dec. 22. Approximately every half hour, the officer will enter Van Pelt-Dietrich Library to offer walking escorts to anyone in the building. The officer will then escort and return to repeat the process.


Are there any tips we can use to safeguard ourselves during our holiday travels?

We’re interested in keeping people safe wherever they might be, wherever you may travel for the holidays—crime can occur anywhere. In Philadelphia, we want everyone to enjoy all that the city has to offer while being mindful of their surroundings. 

A few tips—awareness: Stay alert and be aware of individuals who may be shadowing you as you travel. Stay off your cell phones when shopping and keep them out of view.

Shopping: Limit the amount of cash you carry during your shopping. Carry purses close to your body and place wallets in an inside pocket.

Vehicles: Have keys ready as you approach your vehicle. Place all packages out of view and secure them in the trunk. Lock the doors as soon as you get into your vehicle.

And family and friends: Take a family member or friend with you as you conduct your holiday shopping. You are less likely to be a target if you are with others.


What is the number one crime on campus?

Theft is the number one crime on campus. Package theft is very prevalent during the holidays. Knowing this, we encourage everyone in the community to avoid leaving their property unattended. Even if it’s just for a minute, when you return that item may be gone. So, when you’re studying at a coffee shop or the library, please be aware of where your items are when taking a break. And when locking a bike or electric scooter outside, use a high-security U lock.

Similarly, as you would not leave your laptop unattended, do not leave your packages unattended in an unsecured location. Have a plan for when your delivery will arrive; if you can’t be home, arrange for a neighbor or housemate to bring it inside or have it delivered to a secure location. Many area landlords offer secure delivery options. Or, if you are ordering from Amazon, make use of the Amazon@Penn delivery center in 1920 Commons.


Do you have other suggestions for students preparing for Winter Break?

We also offer our Special Property Checks for residents in our patrol zone during the Winter Break. Under the special checks program, DPS officers check the exterior of registered properties for signs of safety or security breaches. The free program is available to all residents in the Penn patrol zone, bounded by 30th Street to 43rd Street and from Baltimore Avenue to Market Street.