Just like any other busy day for a college student, Kathleen Whitby, now a junior at Towson University, had to walk across campus to her dorm one night during her freshman year. Her night changed, however, when a man who had been yelling at her decided to take things a step further.
“He started following me, so I was afraid and I started walking faster,” Whitby said. “I got close to a blue light and thought about using it, but I realized that I was moving fast enough to out walk him.”
Whitby’s situation isn’t entirely unique on Towson’s campus. Reports of a “suspicious person” can be found littered throughout Towson University Police Department’s crime log.
In most cases, however, there are no victims, and nobody is harmed. In fact, according to a report released by the University System of Maryland, Towson University has the lowest per-capita crime of all colleges and universities in the system, with just 5.24 crimes per 1,000 students in 2013. This is the sixth year in a row that Towson has had the lowest per-capita crime rate.
The next-lowest school on the list is the University of Baltimore, with 6.75 crimes per 1,000 students. Comparatively, College Park saw a crime rate of nearly 13 crimes per 1,000 students.
On-campus crime in 2013 decreased by 14 percent from 2012.
“We’re very fortunate here in that we have a very low rate of violent crime and crime overall,” Deputy Chief of Police Joe Herring said.
Towson had only one violent crime reported in 2013, and Herring said that, right now, crime on campus is trending even lower than it was last year.
Herring would not, however, comment on whether or not he thought the trend would continue, saying that in nearly 38 years a policeman he’s never predicted whether crime would see an increase or a decrease.
Herring attributed the numbers to the students, faculty and staff that make up Towson’s community.
“It’s not TUPD that keeps the crime rates low, it’s the community that does it,” Herring said. “We do our part in being visible and responsive to calls, but a lot comes from the community.”
The efforts of TUPD and the actions taken by members of the campus community have not gone unnoticed.
“I feel like I see police officers all over campus, which is really nice,” President of the University of Maryland Student Council and Towson senior Zac McGee said.
McGee said that he and some of his friends see campus as a “bubble” that is safer than some of the areas around it.
“I’ve never felt unsafe on campus,” he said.
In addition to partnering with the community and encouraging students to practice basic safety measures such as not walking alone at night and reporting suspicious behavior, TUPD helps to create an atmosphere of safety with the prevalence of blue light security poles around campus – the same system that Whitby almost had to use her freshman year.
“We get activations from them, but they have a crime prevention effect all in of themselves,” Herring said. “They make students feel secure.”
Though they are prevalent on college campuses, including Towson, the blue light security poles simply cannot be everywhere. To address this problem, a few schools within the USM have begun using smartphone apps that serve a similar function.
Not every school is using the same program, however, and McGee said that could be attributed to the diversity of the schools, and each one having different needs.
There is no shortage of options, however. A search in Apple’s App Store for “campus safety” turned up nearly 40 results.
“It’s actually kind of a saturated market,” McGeee said. “Everyone wants to help students be safe around their campuses, which is awesome.”
As of now, Towson University does not make use of a mobile app for safety functions similar to a blue light. According to Herring, however, final details are being worked out, and TUPD hopes to be able to have the mobile app ready to roll out to students during the spring semester.
McGee said that he sees the move to bring these kinds of apps to college campuses as a positive thing.
“This is definitely a move with the millennial generation, which I think I s always good to see,” he said.
The plan to bring such an app to Towson’s campus has been in the works for quite some time, according to McGee, who previously served in Towson’s Student Government Association. In his role both with the SGA and on the USMSC, he said that in conversations about the plan with administrators, only one real downside has ever come up – accidentally providing students with a false sense of security.
However, McGee doesn’t seem to think that a false sense of security is that much of a problem.
“If you don’t have cell service, your app doesn’t work and that’s an issue,” he said. “Fortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Campus safety is diverse and complex and I think that Towson does a great job of it.”
And, even Whitby, after her nerve-wracking experience a couple of years ago, said that any time she was scared on campus, it wasn’t because of where she was, but because she would sometimes notice people who she could not readily identify as students, or tell what they wanted.
“Granted, I’m a little afraid of the dark,” she said. “But I feel a lot safer on Towson’s campus than I do in downtown Baltimore.”