Crime and safety tips for WCU students

Western Carolina University is considered by far one of the safest college campuses in the state of North Carolina. This is largely a result of an interactive, community-oriented police force. But, even though the campus is safe, students can still take preventative measures from allowing crime to occur.

To help new and old students alike, the Western Carolinian spoke with Sergeant Doug Hester of the University Police about crime, preventative measures, witness protection and the willingness of the University Police force to interact with the campus community.

In 2008, the latest year for which crime statistics are available, there were only a total of 7 violent crimes (aggravated assault, forcible sex offenses) committed on WCU’s campus. This statistic is for the entire year. According to Sgt. Hester, the most common serious crime committed on campus is burglary—in 99% of cases though, it is non-violent. But why would burglary be so common?

It is always important to protect your belongings while living on campus. Sgt. Hester related that the most common reason for students being victimized by a burglar was because they did not lock their dorm doors nor secure their car doors. Students, tip no. 1, always lock your dorm room door and your car. But by far, the most frequent criminal offense on campus involves underage drinking or drug violations.

If you drink, “don’t get intoxicated to the point [that] you can’t make good responsible decisions,” says Hester. In 2008, 200 students were referred to Judicial Affairs for “liquor law violations.” However, this number is down from 502 referrals in 2006. The number of arrests made for these violations is even lower—only 32 people were arrested on campus in 2008 for violating drinking laws. Fortunately, the number of drug violations and referrals is even lower. Students, tip no. 2, do not drink underage or irresponsibly.

But what if you’re a student that has witnessed a crime take place, or feel you are going to be victimized by someone? What do you do?

Spread out around campus are at least 22 emergency call boxes. These boxes are located around the dorms, the parking lots and tested each week to ensure that they function properly according to Sgt. Hester. If they malfunction, they are “re-checked” and immediately repaired, Hester said. These call boxes are a direct line to University Police and are easily identified by the blue light on the top of the pole. Students, tip no 3, familiarizeyourself with the locations of the emergency call boxes nearest you.

Western Carolina also has a program in place for students that wish to remain anonymous when reporting a crime. Campus also has programs in place for student’s that may have been victimized but feel intimidated by reporting that crime to the police.

The “Silent Witness” program is a web-based form where a student that feels that a crime has been committed can submit the information directly to the University Police. This report is completely confidential, although if the crime committed involves sexual assault, assault, threats or harassment, that you contact the department directly. While this is a good way for a student to feel “safe,” even if you don’t contact the University Police but want to talk to someone, WCU offers counseling services and there are programs such as REACH for female student victims of domestic violence, sexual assault . With these safety precautions, WCU remains one of the safest colleges in the Southeast.

For any student, coming to college can be daunting and scary. With the Virginia Tech incident and others around the country, often students can feel as if nothing can protect them. Here at Western Carolina University, our police patrol each residence hall everyday to ensure the safety of the students.

“[The] sole purpose of [walk-throughs] is to make sure people are safe,” says Sgt. Hester. The officers want to ensure that no unwelcome “elements” get in he also added. There are also security cameras over every entrance to the residence halls.

But, if you see the officers patrolling, stop and say “hi” and get to know them in case you have to report a crime. Many of the officers on the University Police force have years of experience. Sgt. Hester himself retired from the N. Charleston Police Department. The officers are committed to keeping students safe and creating a better community through “walk-throughs,” friendly interaction and experience. Emergency call boxes, security cameras and state-wide police reporting querying all lead to one conclusion about safety on campus. Hester says, “[The University Police have] a lot of officers that work hard to make sure the campus is safe for students.”

Students, tip no. 4,  use common sense.