SMCM students report that they ‘feel safe’ on campus
Higher number of reported incidents in part due to ‘confidence’ in authorities
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.