KALAMAZOO, MI – Assault on college campuses is a prominent issue given today’s climate. Sexual violence can affect anyone regardless of race, gender or religion, however it’s something that many students face everyday on college campuses across the nation. This issue primarily relates to young woman, but anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. According to the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network (RAINN), 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault throu
gh physical force, violence, or incapacitation, and if you’re a woman between the age of 18-24, you’re three times more at risk of sexual assault.
The people that are devoted to stopping crime ordinances like this are the university’s public safety department. Western Michigan University’s Department of Public Safety was recently recognized at the National Campus Safety Summit for their campus safety initiatives. They were awarded with No. 3 in the nation for their department. Deputy Chief Carol Dedow was present at the summit to receive the award.
WMU’s Department of Public Safety plays a prominent role on campus, as the department consists o
f many safety services and divisions. Western Michigan University has a full-service police department that has over 25 police officers. Along with employing over 50 students each year in its department, Western’s Public safety department has over 40 full-time employees. These employed students are easily marked with neon vests, and travel across campus in packs every night, scoping out any suspicious sightings and reporting them to the officer on duty.
Crime continues on Western’s campus daily, and the Department of Public Safety posts reported criminal activity on a crime log that is updated daily. In the past 60 days alone, 11 arrests have been made on Western’s campus. In 2017, Kalamazoo was named the 48th most dangerous city in the nation in a list compiled by nieghborhoodscout.com. In 2016, there was a shooting in Kalamazoo that garnered national attention. Jason Dalton, an Uber driver, was responsible for killing six people and injuring two others on February 20th, 2016. It’s a given that Kalamazoo is a dangerous city, and whether that’s reflected on Western’s campus is something all students should be aware of.
“I’ve only been in this position for a few years, but listen, I used to be a part of the police force, that was my original job.” said Scott Merlo. Scott is the Director of Public Safety here at Western and is an alumnus of the university as well. I sat down with Scott last Tuesday to ask him a few questions about recent Kalamazoo activity, the recent award and his job.
When I asked if the recent award at the National Campus Safety Summit was reflective of Western’s crime rate, Scott had this to say, “The award we received this past February doesn’t reflect Western’s crime rate. I’ve been a police off
icer in the city before, and I’ve had to deal with some nasty cases head on, you know. We’re in constant contact with the halls on campus, and most of the stuff we get called up for is because someone is smoking in their room. The award we recei
ved was reflective of the initiatives we take to ensure safety, that’s not reflective of the crime rate. It’s more commending our approach to safety with things like social media.”
Scott also mentioned that originally, they were instructed to not get a social media account for Western’s Dep
artment of Public Safety. Scott’s approach to his job seemed genuine and motivated. He empathizes with students and tries to make sure that his department does everything in its power to ensure safety.
“We’ve cut back a lot over the last couple of years, with the student’s activities. I mean, I remember years ago before I became Director of Public Safety, the gameday activities and house crawls would get out of hand, I saw teargas cannister thrown into a crowd of students. Now, all the police presence does is check to make sure you don’t have any glass bottles on you.” added Scott.
As mentioned earlier, Scott and the rest of the department are always in contact with the campus halls. While police are always responsive to reports of suspicious activity, it’s the personnel on campus that report directly to them if they see something. Western’s Department of Public Safety employs over 50 students who play a role in campus safety. Routinely, they do building checks, help people walk back to their hall and report any suspicious activity to whichever service officer is active. I spoke with Trayvion Scroggins, a WMU student who works for the safety department, about what kind of role he plays.
“Usually when we’re on duty, not too much suspicious activity happens. Our job is obviously to make sure the campus is safe but usually the most we might report is maybe a building check, or we might report vehicle that’s in a spot it’s not supposed to be in.” said Scroggins. He also agreed with the Director of Public Safety about how Western’s crime rate and Kalamazoo’s crime rate differ.
“The crime rate on campus is probably lower than the crime rate in Kalamazoo, I would say we’re ranked number three because of how well our program is with campus safety.” Scroggins added.
WMU will continue to do its best to ensure campus safety, even as kids head home for the summer. Remember, always utilize safety tips if it appears walking alone could be dangerous. It’s the best way to optimize your own safety.