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MIT Police Visit FSILGs, Hold “Wellness Checks”

By Brian Keegan

Kimberly G. Chao ’04 was surprised to answer the door at Alpha Chi Omega on a school night last week and see two MIT police officers. However, the officers were not there to address typical concerns such as noise complaints or an unregistered party.

“They asked to speak to the president of the house, handed him a letter saying they’re going to be doing these checks this term,” wrote Jake C. Pinato ’04, a Phi Kappa Sigma member, in an e-mail about his MIT Police encounter.

The letter was from Lieutenant Daniel Costa of the MIT Police Patrol division and described a new initiative to perform “wellness-checks” with the twenty-six off-campus fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

Costa says that this is not anything new. “We are charged with promoting the safety of the MIT community, but too often we don’t have faces to go with names,” he said.

“We’re trying to build a better relationship with these fraternities to solve problems together,” Costa said.

Lieutenant Albert F. Pierce Jr. from the Community Policing division sees this new push as “a kind of neighborhood watch to increase the safety of living groups across the river by having a consistent and visible presence.”

He said they “want to build rapport with the community by not only having a presence, but being able to assist and collaborate with its members.”

Police visit more frequently

Brian T. Neltner ’05 from Tau Epsilon Phi has noticed that MIT Police have been visiting more often.

“They’re stopping by all the fraternities more regularly to get to know the people living there ... They ask no questions, just let me know what they’re doing and leave,” he said in an e-mail.

Costa said each “wellness check” consists of “two MIT police officers arriving in a marked cruiser, presenting themselves at the front entrance to a member of the living group, recording the time, address, and signature of the member or members present, and finally asking if everything is OK before leaving.”

Four to five of these checks occur “most nights” and are intended to be evenly distributed throughout the week among the living groups. Moreover, Pierce tries to be consistent in matching patrol officers to houses to establish a rapport. He was keen to point out that the “wellness checks” are not an attempt to spy or infringe on the privacy of the houses.

Costa believes that since the checks occur during “reasonable hours” of the day and evening shifts, there has been no adverse effect on manpower, budget, or other police resources.

Members express skepticism

Some in the FSILG community are skeptical of the new program’s purported genuine intent.

Terry A. Gaige ’04 of Chi Phi said, “The officers are rather grumpy about being forced to make the rounds to collect signatures. They come in and brusquely ask for the signature, as soon as they get it, they jump back in their car.”

“If the officers had the right attitude, this policy might facilitate communication, but so far it has not done a thing,” Gaige said.

Pinato says though officers have been generally “friendly about it, I didn’t see why they actually needed to talk to me.”

Chao admits, ”I do not feel like it has had an effect on the sisters of AXO as of yet.”