SMCM stu­dents re­port that they ‘feel safe’ on cam­pus

Higher num­ber of re­ported in­ci­dents in part due to ‘con­fi­dence’ in au­thor­i­ties

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­ Twit­ter: @Jac­quiEn­tNews

St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land stu­dents are re­port­ing more crimes, but also feel­ing more se­cure on cam­pus, ac­cord­ing to the col­lege’s pub­lic safety di­rec­tor.

Tressa Set­lak said dur­ing the col­lege board of trustees meet­ing last Fri­day that num­bers aren’t the only way her staff as­sess the safety of stu­dents.

Data from 2014 through 2017 in­di­cate that re­ports have gone up since Set­lak joined the col­lege as the di­rec­tor of pub­lic safety in 2015, with 450 re­ports in 2014 and more than 600 re­ports in 2017. There are just over 1,600 stu­dents en­rolled in classes at the pub­lic lib­eral arts cam­pus.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s cam­pus safety and se­cu­rity data­base, the num­ber of re­ported in­ci­dents at St. Mary’s Col­lege have re­mained rel­a­tively sta­ble in re­cent years for most re­ported cat­e­gories, with one ex­cep­tion be­ing stalk­ing. Eight in­ci­dents of stalk­ing were re­ported in 2014, 13 were re­ported in 2015 and 25 in 2016, the most re­cent year of data avail­able.

Set­lak said of the in­crease in some re­ported in­ci­dents on cam­pus, “re­search shows that when a com­mu­nity has con­fi­dence in the agency, the re­port­ing will go up.”

Since she’s stepped into the role, Set­lak said stu­dent groups like the Pub­lic Safety Stu­dent Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil and the Night Hawks have dis­banded be­cause stu­dents don’t feel the need to or­ga­nize for cam­pus se­cu­rity.

“Stu­dents feel safe walk­ing in their neigh­bor­hood,” she said.

Col­lege trustee and pro­fes­sor Peter Bruns said that cam­pus se­cu­rity “should be a part of” the col­lege’s brand­ing and mar­ket­ing. He said the dis­cus­sion of cam­pus safety shouldn’t be lim­ited to col­leges in more ur­ban ar­eas.

In Feb­ru­ary, four St. Mary’s Col­lege stu­dents were jailed for al­legedly car­ry­ing out an armed rob­bery in a dor­mi­tory room for a half-pound of mar­i­juana, ac­cord­ing to charg­ing pa­pers. Pub­lic safety staff said in a re­lease they were work­ing with the St. Mary’s sher­iff’s of­fice to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent, dur­ing which stu­dents were sus­pended. Sher­iff’s de­tec­tives de­ter­mined that the rob­bery was not a “random crime,” ac­cord­ing to a sher­iff’s of­fice re­lease.

“They are all per­ma­nently banned” from the col­lege cam­pus, a col­lege spokesper­son said Wed­nes­day. Two are due in court at the end of the month for charges of theft and sec­ond de­gree as­sault. The other two are fac­ing armed rob­bery charges and are due to go to court in July.

The “stu­dents are re­port­ing more” be­cause they feel that their con­cerns are be­ing ad­dressed, Set­lak said, adding that stu­dents call­ing for es­corts across cam­pus in the evening and night hours

“has de­creased by 45 per­cent.”

Sven Holmes, trustee pres­i­dent, said he was con­cerned about the stu­dent groups dis­band­ing, adding that stu­dents should or­ga­nize with their peers to dis­cuss cam­pus safety is­sues.

“They shouldn’t have to suf­fer in si­lence,” he said.

Set­lak said more stu­dents are com­ing to speak with her and other staff di­rectly. She said staff are com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the col­lege’s stu­dent gov­ern­ment as­so­ci­a­tion about po­ten­tial is­sues.

Bring­ing the 911Shield safety app on­line has also helped stu­dents with their per­cep­tion of cam­pus safety, she said.

Cam­pus safety staff also have more of­fi­cial-look­ing med­i­cal care bags, rather than plas­tic stor­age bins, and pro­fes­sional-look­ing ve­hi­cles, Set­lak said.

Col­lege Pres­i­dent Tua­juanda Jor­dan said peo­ple did not take the col­lege’s cam­pus se­cu­rity se­ri­ously prior to Set­lak’s start­ing her po­si­tion at the col­lege in 2015.

“You were like the Key­stone Kops,” Jor­dan said, re­fer­ring to the in­ept fic­tional po­lice in old slap­stick come­dies.

Jor­dan said she had the chance to ride in one of the “in- cred­i­bly cool” cam­pus se­cu­rity ve­hi­cles, adding, “I wasn’t in trou­ble.”

“Peo­ple per­ceive us as sharp” with the up­dated equip­ment, Set­lak said.

Set­lak said pub­lic safety staff have also made con­nec­tions with the sher­iff’s of­fice, Mary­land State Po­lice, lo­cal fire and res­cue squads and a tow­ing com­pany. “We’re reach­ing out across the ta­ble,” she said.

Be­fore the agree­ment with a tow­ing com­pany, stu­dents were charged dif­fer­ent rates and may not know where their ve­hi­cle was taken af­ter be­ing re­moved from cam­pus, she said.

Pub­lic safety staff have also uti­lized car boots for stu­dents who don’t fol­low park­ing guide­lines, Set­lak said.

“They don’t have to go look­ing for [their car] or pay ex­tra fees” to get their ve­hi­cle back, she said.

Cam­pus se­cu­rity staff also host com­mu­nity in­for­ma­tion nights where they’re trained to “run, hide or fight” in an emer­gency, as well as iden­ti­fy­ing be­hav­iors that can lead to po­ten­tially vi­o­lent acts.

Set­lak said staff are look­ing into fu­ture im­prove­ments to cam­pus safety in­clud­ing in­stalling a video sur­veil­lance sys­tem on cam­pus, of­fer­ing ad­di­tional train­ing for staff and earn­ing ac­cred­i­ta­tion through the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Cam­pus Law En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tors, or IACLEA.


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