Campus crime low but police advise caution

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[media-credit name=”Albert Fulcher/Staff” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]When the economy is bad, crime goes up, but the interim chief of the Southwestern College Police insists his team is up to the job.
“People think ‘you know, they’re just campus police’,” said Robert Sanchez, the acting chief. “The thing is, we are campus police, but we’re the police. We’re state police officers for the State of California.”
SWC has not had any serious or violent criminal activity so far this year, said Sanchez, but some disconcerting episodes have been reported, particularly in the late evening after night classes. In August a female student was verbally accosted by a man hiding in a planter who then chased her into the parking lot. She was not injured.
“Always be aware of your surroundings,” said Sanchez. “In situations like that, never be afraid to run, scream, make noise. Draw attention to yourself.”
Sanchez has worked at SWC since 2009. He said he has seen a fair share amount of crime on and off campus involving students, staff and administration.
“People should take a step back and listen to themselves and the hairs on the back of their neck,” said Sanchez. “If you feel that a place on campus isn’t safe, chances are it’s not and it’s best to stay away from that area.”
Crime Awareness and Campus Security pamphlets are available to the public in the campus police office in room 105D. Between 2008-2010, when enrollment peaked at nearly 22,000, reports showed a total of 38 batteries, 43 thefts (including vehicle burglaries), 18 vehicle thefts, 75 burglaries, 11 weapons violations, 24 alcohol and 26 drug-related offenses.
“I want to make this perfectly clear,” said Sanchez. “Our crime rate here on campus is very, very low.”
He said summer semester was quiet, but the months leading into the holidays usually mean an increase in crime reports, particularly thefts.
“I call it theft fest,” said Sanchez. “A thief is going to be a thief.”
Students in night classes have greater concerns without the crowds and light of the daytime campus.
“Maybe we should have security here until after everybody leaves,” said Ceirra White, 17, art and design major. “I never really see the police around except for like once or twice. I’m here during the day, I feel pretty safe. I’m more concerned about if I was here at night.”
Campus police provide services to students Mondays through Saturdays between the hours of 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. During later hours a private campus security firm takes over.
“We’re here for everybody’s safety,” said Sanchez. “My officers are more than able and willing to handle anything. If you’re here late and you need an escort to your car, give us a call.”
Sanchez said the campus is open to the public and anyone is free to walk into school and use the facilities as long as they are not interfering with campus activities. The bookstore, cafeteria, library, student center, and administration buildings are available to the public. Sanchez said the campus police want students to keep an eye out for suspicious people on campus and to contact campus police if they feel threatened or unsure. In many cases it is students that cause the disruptions, he said.
“Many students lose track of what they’re supposed to do while here on campus,” said Sanchez.
A number of crimes reported are arguments and misunderstandings between students, he said.
Sanchez said students are stressed out, especially during the beginning weeks and ending weeks of the semester, and campus police are called to the administration building to handle situations of students “losing their cool.”
“Campus police’s main concern is to assure the safety of the students and staff at Southwestern College,” Sanchez said.
Students are advised to take security measures to prevent theft and keep vehicles safe.
“If you have an alarm on your car, set it,” said Sanchez. “Lock your doors. If you have to leave valuable objects in your car, be sure to conceal them.”
Other means of safety tips for students is to use the buddy system when walking to cars, or class.
“We’re like a little city,” said Sanchez. “Campus police are trained officers who enforce the safety of civilians on and outside school grounds.”
State laws are enforced on the grounds in the same manner they are off campus. Students caught speeding around the school are cited in the same way as if pulled over on the freeway.
Many students said they are not aware of safety issues on campus, or do not view the campus police as having the role in securing students’ safety.
“I haven’t heard anything about crimes on campus,” said Terrell Walton, 19, undecided. “It’s a learning environment. I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary here.”
Others said they feel safe attending classes.
“I guess I never really felt like I was in danger,” said Eli Rios, 20, biology major.
Gabrielle Loaiza, 19, a criminal justice major, credits the campus police for improving the atmosphere on campus.
“I feel safer now than I did before,” she said. “The atmosphere this semester is so much better. I don’t see anybody starting problems this semester.”
Campus police can be contacted by calling extension 6380. Emergency phones in classrooms connect anyone directly to the department and all pay phones on campus take free calls to the campus police by dialing *81. To reach the department by cell or any other phone, the direct line is 619-482-6380.

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