Claflin DPS leader says campus safe, can be even safer
By: TYUANNA WILLIAMS and JALEN LANGLEY
Sep 18, 2022
Claflin DPS Director Melvin Williams speaks to student reporters. (Panther photo)
The Claflin University Department of Public Safety joins forces with local law enforcement in working on the safety of students and the community, department Director Melvin Williams said.
Williams, also interim police chief and interim executive director of public safety and emergency readiness, addressed student reporters on Sept. 1 about issues from campus safety to parking.
“We’re making joint decisions,” said Williams, whose 42 years of law enforcement experience include two at Claflin.
A meeting was held with South Carolina State University’s police chief and the Orangeburg County sheriff on the same day as a shooting on Buckley Street near the Claflin and SC State campuses, Williams said. On Aug. 21, one person was killed and three others were injured in the incident.
Williams said Claflin, SC State and the Orangeburg Department Public Safety will be patrolling streets adjacent to the campuses. The colleges shut down campus events due to the proximity of the shooting.
Events on both HBCU campuses were given the green light to start back up on Sept. 6, Williams said.
Williams addressed safety on the Claflin campus, comparing it to two other HBCUs where he has served.
“Claflin is the safest,” Williams said. “Claflin is a very safe institution.”
Pointing to campus crime statistics from 2020, Williams said, “They were very low.”
Theft is the biggest problem, he said, citing cellphones as an example.
He urged students to take their safety seriously.
At Claflin and anywhere, be aware of your surroundings, Williams said. Practice situational awareness.
“There is always the possibility that something can happen,” he said. At parties, people should have a real good sense of when things are “going sideways.”
Leave the place, he said. “Listen to that sixth sense that you have.”
Self-defense classes at Claflin are a possibility but getting them started has been a cost issue, Williams said.
“That is something that is being looked at,” he said of working with the Student Government Association on the matter.
But self-defense is not the key to safety, he said.
As important as self-defense can be, “Prevention is always better,” Williams said. Try to avoid having to defend yourself.
Williams said safety measures on the campus include additional cameras, with more surveillance over highly populated areas like Goff Avenue near High Rise dorm. Parking Lot 8 will also have additional cameras.
“We have a very robust camera system,” Williams said.
The cameras can ID a person and search through other cameras in order to locate the person. The cameras are monitored by Claflin DPS personnel. Williams has been working to get student auxiliary officers on board to assist with monitoring the cameras.
Williams said he is a not a minister but is motivated to continue being a police officer. “It’s a passion, it’s not a job; it’s a calling, it’s not a job. It has become my ministry.”
The ministry has taken him across a career that includes time at the Orlando and Titusville police departments in Florida, and stints as head of public safety at HBCUs Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Harris Stowe University in St. Louis.
During his two years in Orangeburg, he has grown the Claflin Department of Public Safety to 15 total personnel, 14 of them being full-time.
Claflin DPS is a certified police department with four police officers authorized to make arrests. CDPS also has nine security officers and an administrative person/parking coordinator.
Williams said there are presently three vacancies in police and two vacancies in public safety officers, with efforts to fill the positions ongoing.
“The department is based on community policing,” Williams said. “The police are the people. The people are the police.”
Claflin DPS tries to build relationships, he said, as “guardians of the community, not overseers of the community.”
The director also addressed student parking.
“We don’t have space for everyone to be on main campus,” Williams said.
CDPS wants to avoid writing tickets and towing, he said.
They are enforcing the rule of not having students drive through or park on campus from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. After 5:30, students can drive on campus and park in areas where signs do not prohibit them from doing so.
The rule does not apply to the Kleist parking lot, but if CDPS says there is no spot available, students must park elsewhere. Decals are needed for all parking on any Claflin property.