Crime declines at SC State, but chief believes rate can go lower

Monday, March 10, 2008

The South Carolina State University Police Department says the number of reported crimes on campus went down 23 percent in 2007, compared to the previous year.

S.C. State Police Chief Greg Harris attributes the decline to increasing crime prevention awareness and beefing up security throughout the campus.

"We think we are doing an excellent job in responding to our faculty, staff and students," Harris said.

Harris cited the placement of call boxes across the campus as a big boon to security at the institution. The call boxes became operational last spring and allow anyone on campus to contact the police department directly to address their concerns.

This has enabled the S.C. State police to arrive at the scene of an incident quickly. According to Harris, the national average response time for law enforcement is 20 minutes. He said the response time for his department it is less than four minutes.

The university is also working to prevent potential tragedies at the institution in the wake of the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois shootings.

S.C. State has had a plan to deal with an active shooter on campus since June of last year. It includes coordination with building supervisors and local law enforcement agencies. The plan also has an evacuation procedure.

A lack of proper communication was perceived to be a primary reason why the Virginia Tech shootings escalated to their tragic conclusion.

S.C. State isn't taking any chances with its emergency communications.

In addition to other communication protocols such as e-mail n.jpgication, the university will soon install two large sirens on opposite ends of the campus to alert people of an incident, Harris said.

"You'll be able to hear those sirens all over campus if they go off," he said.

Harris believes that S.C. State is as prepared as Clemson University and the University of South Carolina to handle emergencies on its campus.

The university has also installed a new security and surveillance system to monitor the entire campus via cameras. Harris hopes this new system will allow the department to better ide.jpgy crime and make more arrests.

"Technology plays an important role," he said of the new measures to make the institution more secure.

In 10 of the 14 crime categories S.C. State tracks, the number of reported incidents decreased in 2007. Only burglary and weapons offenses went up slightly.

In addition, only 12 drug and alcohol offenses were reported last year.

"I attribute it to the fact our students don't have a sense that this is place to party," Harris said. He noted that many of the students party off campus due to the restrictions on traffic flow at night and the number of people that can be in a dorm room at a time.

Every night starting at 6 p.m., the university closes all but one of its gates onto campus. Traffic is monitored extensively, he said.

During the past year, the S.C. State Police Department has engaged in a vigorous campaign to increase awareness of crime prevention measures. Harris has spoken at every freshman orientation and residence hall, offering safety tips such as not walking alone at night.

The department has also passed out cards with safety tips and phone numbers. That information is also available on the university's Web site.

While the crime rate is dropping on campus, Harris says there is still work to be done.

The most frequently reported crime at S.C. State is petty larceny, which is theft of an item valued at $500 or less. In 2007, there were 23 fewer reported incidents of petty larceny than in the previous year.

Harris expects petty larcenies to continue to decline on campus because of the heightened awareness.

He acknowledged that many petty larceny cases do not get solved because many of those incidents are crimes of opportunity.

"The potential victims are more aware now. They are starting to listen and those numbers are going to go down," he said.

Officers in the department also undergo intense training through conferences and in-house training. During these sessions, officers go over an array of situations such as hostage negotiations, active shooter scenarios and incident commands.

"All officers will be trained to deal with all situations," Harris said.