Students urge ramping up campus security; U.S. releases crime stats

exploreStudent leaders at the state’s largest college system are concerned with shortcomings in security on their campuses and are calling for improvements.

“Students were concerned by the lack – or complete absence – of security personnel on their campuses,” Sarah Greco, a graduate student at Southern Connecticut State University, recently told the board that governs the four regional state universities and 12 community colleges. Greco is one of two student members of the board and a leader of its Student Advisory Committee.

The committee has been raising the issue for the last three years.

The 16-campus system, called Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, enrolls 90,000 students. The separate University of Connecticut enrolls about 30,000 students.

The U.S. Department of Education recently reported the latest crime statistics for all of Connecticut’s public and private colleges.  At the regional universities and community colleges, crime has remained relatively steady over the last three years.

At Southern, for example, four students or staff reported a forcible sex offense in 2011 compared to six in 2013. Among the 16 campuses in the college system, there were 12 incidents in 2011 compared to 14 last year. Similar trends play out for robberies, burglaries, aggravated assaults and motor vehicle thefts.

The federal Clery Act requires every college in the U.S. to report crime on its campus every year so students know how safe their schools are. But doubt over the reliability of this self-reported data has increased over the years, as students  at schools across the country have alleged they were turned away when they reported being sexually assaulted.

Students at The University of Connecticut recently settled a lawsuit against the state’s flagship school for the way it handled their cases. Their complaints drew national attention, and in the university’s first safety report since they came forward, the number of forcible sexual assaults reported on campus increased from 13 to 23. The only other school to experience a sizable change was Trinity College, with seven reported incidents in 2012 compared to 21 last year.

UConn President Susan Herbst told students in her “State of the University” address earlier this month that all the changes the school has launched in the last year “are designed to increase the reporting of sexual assaults at the university.

“This does not necessarily mean that sexual assaults are on the rise; rather, it means that the reporting of this historically underreported crime is increasing,” she said. “This is essential to the continuing effort to bring this issue out of the shadows and into the light.”

The Student Press Law Center and the Columbus Dispatch released an analysis last month showing that 16 percent of schools in the U.S. claim they have not had a single crime with the potential for serious injury over the last 12 years.

Among the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, four community colleges reported they had not had a single crime in the last three years, and several other schools reported just one or two.

In addition to a lack of security staff, Greco said, the colleges lack sufficient funding to help students facing psychological and emotional problems.

“We are not properly equipped to handle the needs of today’s students,” Greco told the system’s governing board and college presidents. “We have too few counselors and professional support staff at all of our campuses to work with these students.”

The system recently hired consultants to assess security at their schools, but officials refused to release the findings, saying they would expose vulnerabilities at the schools.  In a two-page summary of the findings, officials reported that, “Many enhancements are underway, and some already completed. One of the consistent recommendations concerned staffing levels.”

Seven of the 12 community colleges had no police officers or building and grounds patrol officers, according to the most recent public data available, which is from 2012.

And with many of the schools facing major deficits in their budgets at the start of this fiscal year, several of the college presidents reduced spending on security to help close the gap.

Now, the board is asking state lawmakers to provide $1.2 million more a year to hire eight security staff for their campuses.

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