Annual LION walk welcomes students living in downtown State College

Sending police officers on the annual LION walk is an opportunity to let students, residents and the officers interact at a time when no one is in trouble, said Chief Tom King, but one resident had some constructive criticism during Thursday’s event.

“It’s actually really uncomfortable,” Stephen Hlywak said of seeing uniformed officers on his doorstep. The East Prospect Avenue resident, who works for Penn State, suggested officers wear plain clothes or department polo shirts.

This was the second year Hlywak received a visit during the Living In One Neighborhood walk. The event is in its sixth year, and groups of borough, university, student group and Centre Region leaders walk borough neighborhoods to welcome students. They distribute packets of information, including useful phone numbers and applicable borough ordinances.

New this year in the goodie bags was a flash drive containing a link to a survey, asking how likely people are to interact with their neighbors, how they felt about the groups knocking on their doors and other questions related to the event. Those who fill it out also can win a $25 downtown gift card.

“We’re hoping that will increase the response rate,” said Courtney Hayden, communications and projects coordinator for the borough. “It hasn’t been terribly successful. We’re going to residents we might not see again unless they have a complaint.”

A group including Centre Region Emergency Management Coordinator Shawn Kauffman and new university provost Nick Jones knocked on Hlywak’s door, and others on East Prospect. Other than his criticism of the police officers’ official presence, he said he did put the goodie bag magnets on his fridge.

“Other than that it’s a neat thing,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the phone numbers for the police and fire.”

Knowing about services available in the borough is one of the key benefits to the walk, King said.

“It opens the door so they know if you’re having problems with a roommate situation, or with a girlfriend or boyfriend and have harassment issues, we make sure they have access to all of those services we offer,” he said.

It’s also a good way to get people together who don’t usually interact, Hayden said. Student leaders get to pound the pavement with university administrators, including President Rodney Erickson and borough officials, including Borough Council members and Mayor Elizabeth Goreham.

“I think it’s a great way for our staff to work with student leaders and Penn State staff and to really start the academic year off on a good foot,” Hayden said. “The LION walk has spurred other things with Penn State,” like an alcohol symposium on campus and F8, or First Eight Weeks, in which borough, university and regional officials meet weekly during the fall semester to address behavior in the neighborhoods.

The walk rotates themes, and this year’s was health and safety. The goodie bag items reflected that, offering first aid kits, fire safety kits from the Alpha Fire Company and more.

“We try to make sure we include things like Student Legal Services,” Hayden said. “That’s not safety, but protection. We really try to encourage students to use that service if they’re having issues.”

Hayden said the walk also is working toward creating a culture of responsibility, and King said crime numbers seem to back that up. While he said it’s not a direct connection, crime numbers in the borough have decreased by double digits since 2010.

“One benefit is they know up front some of the rules and regulations,” King said. “It starts the communication in a positive way with police.”