FLINT, MI – When they aren’t in class, studying or taking tests some University of Michigan-Flint students are doing something extra to keep campus safe. They work side by side with public safety officers as student patrol officers and officials at UM-Flint’s Public Safety Department say they have a huge impact on a decrease in crime on campus. In fact, crime stats are the lowest they’ve been in at least 35 years, said UM-Flint Police Sgt. Allen Cozart.
“It is the lowest that I’ve experienced since I’ve been here,” said Cozart, who is responsibility for reporting the statistics. “The student patrol is a visual that we are all over campus. Our officers are everywhere. We have participation of students, faculty and staff.” Criminal incidents dropped from 202 in 2012 to 140 in 2013. Larcenies alone were cut nearly in half from 101 in 2012 to 56 in 2013.
The drop in crime on campus comes at the same time the city of Flint also saw a nearly 25 percent reduction in violent crime through the first three months of 2014 compared to the same time period last year, according to Flint Police Department statistics. The student patrol program isn’t new, but a year and a half ago patrols were restructured to have more visibility on campus as part of a comprehensive public safety strategy, said Public Safety Director Ray Hall.
The new strategy stressed more visibility, more communication and more responsibility for students, as well as new ways of thinking for the UM-Flint public safety officers. “We credit (the student patrol) with a significant role in decreased crime on campus,” Hall said. “They are the eyes, ears and smiles of the Public Safety Department. They are a force multiplier.” The student patrol usually has anywhere from 15 to 20 UM-Flint students on staff at any time. They go through a student patrol officer academy where they are trained on how to assist the public during a fire drill, escort protocol, patrol techniques, how to be a good witness, what to look for and who to call, among other things.
A year and a half ago, their uniforms were changed to maize and blue colors to make them stand out as they moved through campus. Their patrols were also changed to make them more visible to students, staff and faculty.They have played a major role in decreasing larceny on campus, Hall said. The students patrol officers are also good role models and liven up the work environment, he said.There have been enhanced patrol plans. The students patrol in golf carts, cars and on foot throughout campus. They keep their eyes and ears open to help spot suspects of larcenies.
The comprehensive public safety strategy came about after there was an uptick of crime at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, Hall said. “So we looked at the way we were deploying our officers and our students as a key component to that,” Hall said. “And we made some adjustments.” According to FBI statistics released in the fall, UM-Flint reported three violent crimes in 2012, up from two the previous year. Statistics show all three of the crimes were robberies, compared with 2011, when the campus reported a rape and a robbery as its only violent crimes.
Property crime at UM-Flint, however, jumped almost 20 percent to 104 crimes in 2012 compared with the year before, with 100 larcenies, three motor vehicle thefts and one burglary in 2012, statistics showed. An increase in crime had UM-Flint’s Public Safety Department looking at a better way to patrol campus. In addition to the changes to the student patrol training and routines, the public safety officials took a deeper look at crime patterns around campus, Hall said.
More community engagement and higher visibility was created on campus. A year and a half ago officers were put into First Street Dorms. Public service officials began meeting with business owners and area law enforcement to discuss crime trends and patterns. Training for public safety officers at UM-Flint was also enhanced. “It’s been a comprehensive approach,” Hall said. The student patrol officers also take the calls for found items on campus and safely take it to lost and found.
“Our found property reports have gone up significantly since we enacted the program (a year and a half ago). … That has been huge,” Hall said. “We have a culture here where everyone assists in keeping the campus safe.” Minh Dang, who has been a student patrol officer for two and a half years, said the job has been a great environment to work in. The students make a difference on campus, he said. The students are a point of contact for those on campus and many people feel safer when they see the students in their maize and blue uniforms patrolling campus, Dang said.
“I believe we do a great on campus of keeping it safe. We’re all assigned to different spots, so there’s a high visibility. High visibility helps deter crime and just makes campus feel safer,” said Dang, 22, of Burton. “There’s quite a few of us students that are working every shift. Campus is safe for a reason because we do catch some guys.”A student patrol officer’s job is to call the public safety department when there is a crime reported or when they believe they’ve spotted someone who is a suspect in a crime. Safety of the student patrol officers is also top priority, Hall said. Along with keeping campus safer, student patrol officers also have a big customer service component.
The students give directions to those lost on campus, can lock or unlock classrooms, escort people if they need it and help out at big events. “They allow officers and security to focus on other tasks that enhance safety,” Hall said. Without the student patrol officers, there would be services missing, Dang sang. They are more than just students, he said. They are working hard to help whoever needs it on campus.
“We’re out there. We’re out there every day. Everyone sees us. They feel better. They feel safer,” Dang said. “I’ve had people come up to me and just thank me for being here, just walking around campus or being in the car.”In the fall student patrol officers will be able to write parking tickets on campus with a focus on handicap parking and fire lane parking violations. Decreasing crime on campus really has been a team effort, Hall said. Between the 17 sworn officers, seven security officers, the student patrol officers, other students, faculty and staff there is a certain culture on campus where everyone takes up some responsibility.
“I wish we could take the credit for the decrease in crime on campus. We share that with the entire campus community,” Hall said. “There is a sense of ownership.” Overall, Hall said he is very pleased to see crime decreasing on campus but there is still work to be done. “First and foremost we’re here to enhance safety on campus. The results have been going in the director that we want them to go in. One crime is too many. We’ve collectively been able to decrease crime overall and that’s what we’re here to do,” Hall said. “As far as accomplishing our mission, we’re on the right track. This is a very safe campus that continues to get safer.”