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Tom Gebhardt: Off-Campus, On-Duty

April 6, 2009

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Tom Gebhardt hands out safety flyers

Tom Gebhardt meets with off-campus students and neighborhood leaders on community responsibility and safe behavior.

Tom Gebhardt's campus office is empty, but that's a good thing. As director of the university's Office of Personal Safety & Off-Campus Affairs and the university liaison with the neighborhoods of the city, his everyday concern is for students who live off campus. He spends his days -- and many nights -- in the downtown areas of Albany, meeting with students, neighborhood leaders, and Albany safety officers mapping out plans and activities to help keep the city streets safe and, not incidentally, helping the students to become responsible, contributing members of the communities in which they live.

"We're proactive, and our charge is more than just assuring their safety and well-being," Gebhardt said. "It's about having these young people understand local laws and ordinances as well as our expectations and the neighborhoods' expectations of the lives they lead off campus."

The Office of Personal Safety & Off-Campus Affairs recently approached students in a door-to-door walk devoted to fire safety. Gebhardt and his team met students at their homes and apartment, offering fire safety tips and information about smoke detectors, barbecuing safety, keeping porches free of combustible materials, and other safety topics. They also distributed copies of a fire safety flyer and, if no residents were home, left it in a hanger bag on the doorknob. The fire-safety partners included the Universityís Department of Environmental Health and Safety, the Albany Fire Department, the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and the College of Saint Rose Department of Safety and Security.

The door-to-door campaigns are highly effective and frequently part of Gebhardt's routine when reaching out to students. Past campaigns have included distributing information about personal safety and student personal rights and responsibilities. He coordinates the WhistleWatch Safety Program and the Albany Disabled Alert Program, as well as the Midtown Neighborhood Watch, a partnership of the University Police Department, the Albany Police Department, the College of Saint Rose Department of Safety and Security, and the Pine Hills and Beverwyck Neighborhood Associations. He also oversees the Donít Walk Alone Safety Escort Service on campus and works with the Albany Police Department's Operation Safe Corridor initiative.

Most important, Gebhardt is the driving force behind the award-winning community service organization, the Committee on University & Community Relations. The committee comprises representatives of regional colleges, the Albany Common Council, the Albany Police and Fire departments, and student, neighborhood association, community, and religious leaders

"The committee, led by Tom Gebhardt, is dedicated to forging workable relationships between residents and students in the city's neighborhoods, and meets regularly with students leaders," said Frank Wiley, chief of the University Police Department. "Its success is one of the great strengths in our community policing model."

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