Francis Marion campus police Chief Richard Austin said last week that a period of adjustment is to be expected at the beginning of every semester when it comes to parking issues and campus safety.
“We have a change over in our municipality by 20 to 25 percent every year, so it’s a relearning process,” Austin said.
Each semester, an influx of students new to campus and new to the rules and procedures that are in place create a three-to-five-week increase in violations of campus laws, including parking and safety issues. As students receive warnings and become more familiar with the laws, violations typically begin to decrease as the semester continues.
According to a three-year crime statistic comparison report that is available in the Facilities Management/Campus Police building on campus, FMU has a relatively low rate of crime in comparison to universities and colleges of similar size. Although the report shows a significant increase for FMU in liquor and drug violations from 2006 to 2008; other categories, including robbery, burglary, assault and illegal weapons violations either decreased or averaged around the same low number of occurrences.
Chief Austin agrees with the report and said that although it is virtually impossible to be completely crime free, Francis Marion is able to boast of its low crime rates due in part to its size and location.
“I think our crime rate is low in comparison [to other universities],” Austin said. “One of the advantages at FMU is that we’re separated from the city. People have to make a conscious effort to come to our campus.”
The majority of students seem to agree that crime itself is not a large issue on campus, but there are some who feel safety could stand to be improved. Two such students are on-campus residents Janay Coleman, a sophomore majoring in nursing, and Marquita Heath, a junior majoring in sociology.
“Anybody can come on campus,” Coleman said. “I see guys on campus driving around or standing outside of the residence halls trying to talk to girls that don’t live on campus. That does not make me feel safe.”
This is one situation where students are not simply complaining about something they see as a problem, but are also eager to offer solutions. Heath said her solution to Francis Marion’s open-access campus would be similar to solutions she has seen at other schools, such as the University of South Carolina.
“They need to have a gate or booth where you have to show your ID card in order to come on campus, especially around the housing residences,” Heath said. “That way people who are not students would not be able to drive around campus.”
According to Austin, campus police have the right to stop any car that comes on to campus after dark and inquire as to what their purpose is for being there. Campus police routinely exercise this right, although it is impossible to stop every car. Austin said he encourages anyone who feels unsafe or suspects anything unusual to call campus police.
“Our officers would rather answer 100 calls where we’re just checking things out or helping people feel safe than one where we are responding to something that could have been prevented,” Austin said. “We are here to be a resource. Sometimes we have to become the bad guys, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to help. You can approach our officers at any time. Use us as the resource we want to be.”
Tray Graham, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism, is a resident assistant for the Dalton Apartments on campus. According to Graham, campus safety at FMU is good but could use some minor improvements.
“It could be better, with more foot patrols from police officers and ID checking, since we have a lot of locals who aren’t students who come on campus,” Graham said.
CJ Bell, a junior also majoring in broadcast journalism, said that he also feels safe as a resident student, but would enjoy stricter rules on who can come onto campus.
“It’s kind of aggravating how people who don’t go here come on campus late at night and they are loud, but all in all I feel safe,” Bell said.
Francis Marion, which employs 24-hour police surveillance along with emergency call boxes located in strategic places, also offers a little known service called Operation ID through its campus police department. Through this service students have the option to register their personal items such as laptops, cameras and cell phones with the police through the serial numbers located on the devices.
Unsecured larceny, which is theft that occurs when a person leaves their items unattended, is the number one crime issue at Francis Marion. Through the Operation ID program students have a more realistic chance of actually having their lost or stolen items returned to them since they are then more easily traceable in pawn shops and other locations.
“One of the key things we need students to understand is that we need information from the devices first in order to retrieve them,” Austin said.
Austin had many suggestions for students on how to avoid being affected by crime, including simply making good choices.
“Don’t leave your room unlocked,” Austin said. “Don’t leave important stuff in your car. Put it in your trunk. If you meet someone downtown, ask yourself, ‘Would I bring this person home to mom or dad?’ If the answer is no then don’t bring them on campus. Pay attention to your online presence. Don’t put so much information on there. Not only can criminals use it for bad purposes, but potential employers look at it as well.”
Austin also addressed student concerns with parking issues. During the first few weeks of the new fall semester many students have been seen taking drastic measures in order to find parking close to their classes. Cars driven by commuter students have been found parked on sidewalks, in the grass and in faculty and staff parking places. One reason for this may be the over abundance of cars owned by residential students that can be found in commuter parking lots.
Some students, including Ayers Manos, a senior commuter student, have suggested that the school should stop giving out parking stickers that restrict where people can park so that people can park anywhere.
“Basically, there’s nowhere to park and all the residents are taking up our spots,” Manos said. “People are having to park across the street at the tanning bed and in the grass.”
According to Austin, campus police have been out in full force the last few weeks making sure violators of parking rules are warned or ticketed, and they are already seeing a positive difference three weeks into the semester. Austin said if students are having difficulty in finding parking places close to their classes then they may need to look for parking spots in Lots D and F, which are located further away from classes but are still within walking distance of all buildings on campus.
“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to drive around and around lots located closer to your classes when you could drive further down, walk and be in your class at the appropriate time,” Austin said. “If at any time you check for further parking places there are really more than enough.”
Morgan Daley, a senior commuter student majoring in public relations, said she makes sure she is on campus in plenty of time each day to get a parking space before class.
“If you get here early enough you can’t complain about parking,” Daley said.
Chief Austin said he simply wants students to understand that campus police are always available to assist them, whether for a safety or parking concern or even to help with a class project.
“Our main focus is to make the campus as safe as possible so you can conclude your education and enjoy your time here,” Austin said. “If you suspect anything or need help with anything give us a call and let us check it out.”
Campus police can be reached any time at (843) 661-1109. Residential students can dial 1109 from their on-campus housing lines.