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Crime at USM: are students safe or endangered?

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It was the early morning of Thursday, Nov. 16, when the University of Southern Mississippi Police were called to the scene of Century Park North. A disturbance was reported between the students, initiated by student Jamari Riles. The reason why the conflict was initiated is still under investigation by campus police.

Riles made his way to 4th Street, where he stole another student’s vehicle, drove it for a few feet, then abandoned it. UPD officers apprehended him, where he was then charged with stealing the motor vehicle and two counts of assault on a police officer. Riles was taken to Forrest County Jail and is on interim suspension from the university, pending the Code of Conduct process through the Dean of Students office. The case will eventually be turned over to the Forrest County District Attorney’s office.

According to UPD Police Chief Rusty Keyes, it was an isolated incident and that the campus is safe.

“We believe there’s no threat against the university, and he is suspended,” said Keyes.

That same week, there was another incident reported at the Intramural Fields during an intramural football game. Witnesses were reported to have fled on foot, and did not talk to police. It was determined that the incident took place between non-students and USM students, which is still under investigation.

Keyes is consistently reassuring the campus community that campus is safe, and is dedicated to protecting the campus. According to him, the campus crime is considerably less than other colleges.

“I’m really proud of our campus, of all campuses, on the coast and in Hattiesburg,” Keyes said. “Our crime rate is lower than the national average.”

Federal surveys reported that there have been no rises in national crime. The same can be said for USM’s crime rate. According to the 2023-2024 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report from UPD, crimes like motor vehicle theft, burglary and drug law arrests have fallen since 2020. Other crimes like arson, robbery and aggravated assault are not even present on campus.

Nonetheless, crime is still prevalent at USM in 2023. While the crime rate is lower than recent years at the university, crimes like theft, harassment and public disturbances remain the most common at the university.

According to the UPD Daily Crime Query, there have been 82 reported incidents since Sept. 15. 61 of these incidents have been directly on the Hattiesburg campus. Out of these crimes, 23.2% of them have been theft, the most commonly reported crime at the university. Harassment and public disturbance crimes are tied, at 15.9% of crimes reported at USM. Other crimes like assault, alcohol-related, narcotics and vandalism are still noticeably present at the university.

It is worth noting that most crimes at the Hattiesburg campus take place at residence halls like Century Park North, McCarty Hall and Hillcrest. 45.9% of crimes happen at these locations. 29.5% of crimes happen in public areas like the Thad Cochran Center, the Union Hub Plaza or the 4th Street Parking Garage.

Even with these statistics considered, some students still manage to feel safe on campus. An anonymous student believes that campus is completely safe, and has never felt threatened. “I have never felt unsafe while on campus, even if it’s later at night,” said the student. “I would like to believe that there isn’t anyone on the campus that would try to harm me. I’m also a man, so that may have something to do with it. And UPD does help with their presence.”

Students—primarily women—on the anonymous app YikYak have reported instances of feeling unsafe in areas like the Payne Center, where they have reported instances of being harassed while working out.

“We deserve to feel safe in the gym and on campus,” said the original creator of the YikYak post.

Students gathered underneath the post to address their personal issues with crime on campus.

“Literally…resulted to paying for a gym membership elsewhere because I can’t bear it. I haven’t gone back there since it happened to me. Please be safe out there everyone,” another anonymous student said.

It is encouraged by campus officials for students to remain vigilant on campus, and off. If students feel unsafe or threatened, it is important to remember to file complaints with UPD for quick reaction time to the scene. UPD has a reported response time of around one minute.

Keyes is adamant about encouraging the community to report all crimes and incidents to UPD.

“If there’s an issue, if you’re having an issue, call us,” Keyes said. “We can’t help you if you don’t call us. We don’t know about it if you don’t call and tell us. So please, if you’ve got an issue, if you feel you’re being harassed or anything of that nature, just call us so we can come help you and investigate it and find out what’s going on. If something is happening, we can make it stop.”

For more information on campus crime and safety statistics, Keyes encourages the USM community to look through the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, which is available for free online and in Bond Hall. This report offers all statistics on all campuses associated with USM from as far back as 2020.

UPD can be contacted through a non-emergency line at 601.266.4986. For emergencies, always dial 911. UPD is located at Bond Hall, first floor west. For Title IX emergencies, you can visit Cook Library Rm. 129. The Title IX Office handles concerns and reports related to Title IX, sexual misconduct or sexual discrimination. The Deputy Title IX Coordinator is Erin Sessions, and can be contacted at 601.266.4671.

If there are any emergencies at all, these departments can be contacted for immediate help and assistance. It is recommended that students save these contacts in their phones for easy and quick access in the event of an emergency.

All students, at any university, deserve to have a safe campus. That concept must remain intact at our university. It is a right that must be deemed to the students.

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