Campus safety a priority, chief says

Brittney Cottingham

MSU Chief of Police Dan Williams posing next to a Campus Police vehicle. Photo by Hannah Hofmann

MSU Chief of Police Dan Williams wants to improve campus safety.

For starters, seven light poles and fixtures were added over the summer, costing $58,000.

They were placed to light up high traffic areas from Clark Student Center and Redwine to the dorms and apartments along Louis J. Rodriguez.

“It was just so dark (in that area) that we’ve had a couple of instances of people nearly getting hit by cars crossing the street,” Williams said.

According to Kyle Owen, associate vice president of facilities services, it cost $8,300 per pole.

Half the cost came from the Facilities Service’s HEAF fund (Higher Education Assistance Fund) while the other half was funded through a student services account.

“With limited funds, we attempted to light up as much of the dark area as possible,” Owen said. “There is an existing street light at Gladney and LJR so we stopped short of this light pole.”

There are no immediate plans to add light poles, although increased lighting on campus is an item on MSU’s deferred maintenance list, Owen said.

“Being on this list does not mean its installation is imminent, but it does mean we are aware of the need and would like to fit it in as dollars become available,” Owen said.

Williams described Midwestern as a very safe campus.

“If you look at our Clery Act, our crime statistics we submit yearly, we’ve probably had a few burglaries, one or two assaults, but that’s probably the extent of any harsh crimes,” Williams said. “Most of (campus crimes) are thefts.”

On a one-to-ten scale, Williams said he would rank Midwestern’s security level at an eight or nine.

“The reason I would say it’s not a nine or 10 ranking is simply because I feel like there are still some things we can do to improve security as far as installing more cameras,” Williams said “But technology is so expensive. It’s just hard to do right now with the budgets being affected at the state level.”

For the first time, faculty, staff and administrators must pay for campus parking.

Fines and parking decals have also  increased.

“The reasoning behind (the increases) was to get us an additional officer,” Williams said. “We are a little bit behind the national standard. We felt we were lacking in our peak hours. Sometimes we didn’t have enough officers.”

With a new officers coming on, the force will have 10 officers.

Williams also intends to get more police vehicles.

Currently the department has five trucks including a utilitiy vehicle.

“We desperately need (new vehicles),” Williams said. “The ones we have are about five or six years old and just worn out. I am literally spending more on maintenance cost for what I can get a new one.”

Some officers are also now equipped with bulletproof belts and Personal Assigned Recording Device (PARD).

“Officers now record a majority of our contacts,” Williams said. “If we go to disturbances, robberies, or possible mental cases, suspicious subjects, traffic stops, all of that will now be audio and video recorded and put into a database and could be used for evidence. If a student or public member files a complaint against an officer, that will be on camera as well. It could be used to protect that officer or disciplinary issues toward the officers.”

Cars and high dollar equipment are also budgeted through college HEAF funds.

Another concern campus police hopes to adress is the computer software used for tracking reports and vehicle registration.

In an attempt to be more student friendly, campus police would like to set up a system for students to pay their student decals online, possibly by next year.

Williams called the current software outdated. Yet he has acknowledged how expensive software can be.

“I thought I could get a good software for a few thousand dollars but some of the programs I’ve looked at for just vehicle registration is as much as $30,000.”

The operating system the police station now uses also does not communicate well with the main college system, BANNER.

“Regardless what people might think, when we go out on a contact our goal is to be able to deal with that situation as quick, effectively and efficiently as possible,” Williams said. “If we can get up-to-date software for records management that will interface with the BANNER system, everything is cross-referenced. It makes our office more efficient.”

With an updated program, an officer spends less time on a contact, which means they are not delaying that student any longer than they have to, Williams said.

“You hate to say on a college campus, you have to consider officer safety,” Williams said. “But for us, that is number one. Unfortunately college campuses aren’t exempt from things we see in society today so we’re trying to be proactive and give our officers as well as the students, faculty and staff better coverage.”

The current file management system campus police utilizes does not track how many tickets have been given out.

It also doesn’t differentiate how many $10 tickets versus $20 tickets were written.

Williams ultimately expects that new software can do a better job at tracking what’s actually taking place.

This is just the beginning for Williams and the rest of the police force in terms on improving campus security.

Williams is currently putting a committee together of students, faculty and staff to get input on how campus parking can be improved.

“I don’t look for any changes happening this year or next year,” Williams said. “But we will look at what our colleges are doing and how they structure their parking. I’ll be the first to tell you that we don’t have enough parking.”

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