USC’s Pastides: Students should feel confident about their safety

09/02/2014 11:17 PM

09/02/2014 11:19 PM

University of South Carolina police issued on average two citations per day to students for being a minor in possession of alcohol in the first week of school.

They also issued an average of two citations per day for simple possession of marijuana.

The most disturbing crime on campus that week was the much-discussed, high-profile armed robbery of a student in a USC dorm room.

University President Harris Pastides does not think a conclusion about an uptick in crime could be drawn from the first days of school. But he said USC takes criminal incidents seriously and encourages students to report suspicious activity on campus.

“We tell them to make a call if they spot something,” he said.

With the urban campus open to all in Columbia, Pastides said he does not want an environment where students are constantly looking over their shoulders. They should feel confident about their safety, he said, “as long as they take precautions.”

Pastides said as the 32,000 undergraduate and graduate students returned to school in mid-August, there was a radical change to the community, making Columbia a completely different place.

And with the return of students, the risk of crime on campus increases.

So far, police have responded to Columbia Hall and South Tower dormitories more frequently than other dormitories to issue citations for crimes such as public disorderly conduct, theft and falsified identification and have made 11 arrests in association with some of the incidents.

The most notable crime that has occurred was the high-profile armed robbery of a student near the Horseshoe on Aug. 21. Police arrested Kevin Rick Oneal, 40, after a student reported the incident after Oneal demanded money at gun point from the student as he walked through the Horseshoe on his way to his dorm at East Quad.

The incident has been the only violent crime reported on campus this school year. There were two reported violent crimes for all of 2013, three for all of 2012 and three for all of 2011, according to Wes Hickman, a university spokesman.

Beyond the armed robbery incident, there has been one other notable crime on campus involving someone who wasn’t a student, according to police.

Lloyd Benjamin Hicks, 44, was arrested on Aug. 23 after he allegedly exposed himself to two women walking at the Russell House student union building near Greene and Pickens streets, which is also near the newly renovated women’s dormitories.

Shortly after Hicks was arrested, a student reported a man with a gun near the Russell House on Aug. 24, a Sunday. USC police did not find anyone with a weapon.

“The young man thought correctly (to call police),” Pastides said.

“We encourage that.”

Pastides said he received at least a dozen emails from parents worried about the reports of crime on campus.

He said he assures parents the school is working to make sure the campus is safe by increasing patrols.

Hickman said the university is also encouraging students and faculty to download a new app called Rave Guardian, which will bolster the current Carolina Alert system.

“It basically turns your phone into a portable call box,” Hickman said. “It has a couple of different functions. One will automatically connect you with USC police dispatch if you feel uncomfortable or in harm’s way.”

Hickman said there is also a “safety timer,” which broadens the safety coverage for students and faculty.

“If I am walking from my office to the garage, I can set the time for 10 minutes. If I don’t turn that off by the time I get there, it will notify all of the people that I have listed as my contacts,” Hickman said.

One of those emergency contacts will automatically be USC police once a user downloads the app and registers their university email with it, according to Hickman.

Hickman said the app is not a reaction to the recent crimes on campus, rather, something they have been working on with Rave – the developer of the Carolina Alert system – for months.

“Preventative measures are quite important,” Hickman said. “We want to make sure our campus is inhospitable to criminals and that bad actors are not welcome here.”

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