Officials address increase in public safety reports
By: JALIAH ROBINSON
Jan 27, 2021
From left, Melvin Williams, Claflin University’s executive director of public safety and emergency preparedness, mass communications instructor Lee Harter, and Claflin Department of Public Safety Chief Steve Pearson during a Zoom conference on Jan. 19.
The number of campus police incident reports increased in 2018 from 2017 largely because of officer visibility and student awareness, Claflin public safety officials said.
On Jan. 19 Panther reporters held a news conference via Zoom with Claflin Department of Public Safety Chief Steve Pearson and Melvin Williams, Claflin University’s executive director of public safety and emergency preparedness, to address the increase in incident reports from 37 in 2017 to 98 in 2018. The conference came in the wake of the Claflin department’s release of crime report statistics from 2011-18.
“We’re paying more attention,” Pearson said. With an increase in student activity, officers are more prevalent and aware on campus.
Williams weighed in, saying, "There is a greater awareness on the part of our students about reporting these issues.” As a result, numbers increase.
Pearson and Williams addressed specific categories:
- Illegal substance/drugs jumped from two to 34. These numbers typically come from a residential assistant finding tiny amounts of marijuana in a student’s room, Pearson said.
When this occurs, the Claflin student services office gets involved and implements intervention to head off a potential legal charge, Pearson said.
Intervention can involve substance abuse programs and other actions, Pearson said.
Williams said it’s important that students know that even though marijuana is viewed differently than years ago, “It is still illegal.”
He supports intervention when possible to prevent criminal charges. “I don’t see us changing our approach.”
- Alcohol violations went up from 0 in 2017 to seven in 2018. This situation is handled similarly to drugs, Pearson said. RA’s find alcohol in a room and the student is referred to student services.
- Harassment reports increased from four in 2017 to 11 in 2018.These numbers are mostly correlated to freshmen, Pearson said. With a new environment and new people, “they have to get acclimated to each other.”
“People have to adjust their behavior,” Pearson said. Every year brings different students and involves different things but “usually it’s not something that is life-threatening.”
Williams added that the numbers for harassment can also include reports of cyberbullying.
- Larceny increased from 10 to 17. Because of the cost, books make up most of the reports, Pearson said. A student leaves items and then someone takes them. The “bootleg” books are then sold.
Most of the people are not caught, but Pearson encourages cooperation and communication to report these acts.
Williams reminded students that the university is a small part of the community and warned that “if you lay it down, they’re going to take it.”
“Keep your eyes on your own property at all times,” Williams said.
- Disorderly conduct rose from four to five.“This mainly comes from students not getting along,” Pierson said. Off-campus individuals and parties that got out of hand were also cited as part of the numbers.
Claflin campus in 2021
Overall, everything has been quiet, Pearson said, noting that a limited number of people on campus amid the coronavirus pandemic allows the department time to assess and address issues.
The Claflin Department of Public Safety has seen advancements with equipment and communications but is still understaffed, Williams said. Notably, the radio system has been upgraded so the Claflin force can now connect with all first-responders in the Orangeburg area.
“The university is growing and as a result the department has to grow,” Williams said.
The department hopes to grow from 13 people to 16 to 20 so that it can have shifts with two people patrolling, a person in the booth and a dispatcher.
“Our goal is to protect the campus community, that’s our number one goal,” Williams said. He emphasized that in order to do this, the department needs the resources.
Williams praised Pearson as an officer who has been doing all things for the department. “We’re trying to get resources in to let him be a chief.”
The state of policing
The Claflin public safety officials agreed that police need to have more communication with the public.
Pierson, who has 34 years of law enforcement experience, noted that because of a “bad apple” in a department, the entire group is labeled as bad. He said there should be more community meetings to address police-public issues.
Pierson does not agree with calls to defund the police. He posed the question, "What would it be life if people (police) aren’t there?”
Williams, whose 41 years of law enforcement experience includes top positions in the public sector in Orlando, Fla., and the collegiate world at Bethune-Cookman, said there have been cycles.
Following the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles on March 3, 1991, when King was beaten by LAPD officers during his arrest for drunk driving, police reforms became a priority, he said. Community policing that involved officers working more closely with people in neighborhoods became the norm.
Then came 9/11/2001 and the terrorist attacks. Dollars for community policing went away, Williams said.
From 2001 to the present, progress in building relationships between police and communities has been lost. “It reached a point to where we are now.”
Williams said police have been slow to change their methods.
“We continue to try to do the same thing the same way. We have got to open ourselves up to make the necessary changes.”
In particular, police must build relationships with communities again.
"We have to open up and make changes to show reform,” Williams said. The start of these reforms is better communication and getting back to building relationships.
Advice to students
Williams encouraged students to follow instructions if stopped by police. “You’re not going to win an argument on the side of the road.”
If a problem should arise, he advised students to file a complaint.
Echoing the advice to follow instructions, Pearson said, "The street is not where you hold court. Just cooperate.”