Safety first. The University Police Department is always concerned with the safety of the students, faculty and staff of Sam Houston State, and being voted number 10 of the top 25 safest colleges in the country by the Daily Beast is proof of that.
The statistics that this ranking was based on were from 2007, but Deputy Chief James Fitch believes that not much has changed in the past two years. “I think we are still a safe campus and I think we are moving forward with some progressive new things that will help us to continue to be safe,” Fitch said.
According to the crime statistics posted on the UPD website, there have been 14 cases of larceny/theft this semester, and 63 since January; eight cases of vandalism this semester and 27 since January; three cases of simple assault this semester and ten since January; and only one case of a sexual assault in a residential hall since January.
“A lot of the assaults that are reported to us are between boyfriends and girlfriends, roommates, and friends,” Fitch said. “I would say out of all the assaults that are reported, maybe one percent would be a random act of violence. So most of the time we do not have a problem apprehending criminals because the victim knows their attacker.”
Most dorms have video cameras installed on the outside, along with some of the newer buildings, including the new College of Humanities and Social Sciences building (CHSS), to catch these random acts of violence. To avoid any potential attacks, students should try to avoid walking on campus alone at night, and if they must do so, they should take advantage of the escort service that UPD provides.
“All it takes is to just call us up and either our students that work in pairs will escort them from one place to another or if they are not available, our officers will do it,” Fitch said. “It’s a service we provide for free and we would rather people use it than take that chance.”
With the holidays nearing, students are encouraged to take extra care in where they place their belongings inside their vehicles because crime rates always rise during the holiday season. “The crooks are trying to get money for Christmas just like everyone else,” Fitch said. “Also a lot of the time people slack, and if they go Christmas shopping they might just leave their purchases in the backseat of their vehicle if they have to run to class or just forget to take them inside.” If students need to leave their valuables in their vehicle they should get them out of sight by putting them in the trunk, under the seat or covering them up.
Recently, UPD has been requiring its officers to get out and walk through the campus at least once during their shift. Along with the dorm program that was initiated at the beginning of the semester, officers will patrol through their assigned dorms at random times to get to know people and know what is going on. “We are just trying to be around campus, to be a little bit more proactive than riding around in our cars all the time,” Fitch said.
“A lot of the crime that happens, let’s say the burglary of vehicles, is not the students breaking into cars, it’s our local criminals in town,” Fitch said. “They know that students have nice things and are sometimes a little careless in the security of those things, and so that’s what they target.”
Also criminals know that, during the holidays, students are out of town most of the time. “You can go through through The Arbors on Christmas day and there might be ten cars in the entire complex,” Fitch said. “So they know no body is home and it is a chance for them to break-in without being seen.” What students can do is keep their lights on or a TV or radio on so their apartment has the appearance of someone being home. “If a criminal walks up to the door and hears a TV on, a lot of the time they are going to assume that someone is home and that could be a deterrent.”
To help students become more aware of the crimes and situations on or off campus, UPD is instituting a new program through nixle.com to help notify students of crime on and off campus. “Nixle is a way for us to get information out to people and it is sent through emails and text messages,” Fitch said. “Last week there was a string of car robberies at several apartment complexes and a message was sent out through Nixle saying that there had been a recent rash of burglaries of vehicles last night, and to make sure that they secure their cars and belongings.” The difference between Nixle and the KatSafe system is that KatSafe is reserved for emergency situations only, like a hurricane or school shooting.
For example, if this system had been up-and-running last semester, UPD could have discredited the mass text message that was sent out warning people of a gang initiation shooting at Wal-Mart. “We were faced with the decision of, ‘Do we use KatSafe for this or not?’ because it wasn’t really an emergency and it might have been perceived as an emergency if we had sent out a message using the emergency system.” Nixle is more information than emergency and UPD wants to reserve KatSafe for emergencies only, so when people get messages from that system, they know that it is serious.
To sign-up for Nixle, logon to the UPD website and click on the link to Nixle. Students can choose to receive emails, text messages, or both about important information on campus.