University police to add new officers, respond to concerns at town hall meeting

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File photo, university police

Chance Swaim and Shelby Reynolds

A string of recent crime on campus has prompted the search for four new university police officers, the university announced Monday.

During a student “town hall” meeting Monday evening, university leaders addressed campus safety concerns from an audience of about 50 people, including topics on lighting, surveillance cameras, firearms on campus and nighttime patrols.

The latest threat to students has been passengers of a van reportedly inviting students inside the vehicle for a “bible study,” following students and making derogatory comments toward them, said Joseph Shepard, student body president.

News spread of the van incidents — which have also reportedly occurred at Friends University and other locations in Wichita — when Student Body President Joseph Shepard made a Facebook post Saturday from the Student Government Association page.

It was last week when Shepard said he first noticed people from the Wichita area posting concern about passengers inside a gray 2000 Honda Odyssey van’s attempts to lure students inside the van for “bible study.

A crime alert from Friends University — sent to its students, faculty, staff and parents via email Saturday — stated that the van, tag number 446 GFF, was spotted with at least two males wearing suits and sometimes additional females inside the van.

The people in the van have been stopping people, usually females, and asking them to get in the van to go to bible study, the alert said.

A similar incident occurred at WSU, Shepard said. Once the student declined, Shepard said the people inside the van became angry, yelled derogatory terms, chased and attempted to trap the student who refused.

The reason WSU didn’t send a crime alert was because no crime was committed, Chief of University Police Sara Morris said during the discussion Monday.

“It was an uncomfortable situation,” she said.

The student at Friends University got inside the van with the individuals, Morris said, which prompted Friends to send the alert.

Morris said the passengers inside the van come from a “documented church organization,” so discussions will continue on ways to regulate free speech when it takes place in parking lots and during drive-bys.

By law, the university must notify students, faculty and staff when a Clery Act crime occurs on campus, which include crimes such as murder, sexual assault, robbery and auto theft, according to the 2013 Annual Security and Fire Report.

“We had a conversation with them that their behavior was unacceptable,” Morris said. “We didn’t do an alert because it was just suspicious activity.”

Shepard noticed a post on social media from two Wichita State students Saturday, and decided to share the story to alert students to the threat, he said.

Shepard said he understands some things posted on social media by students may seem like complaints spread to damage a university’s image, but he said the concerns he saw voiced a genuine concern for safety in response to a real threat.

“I was in a conference in Iowa,” Shepard said. “I stepped out for a second and posted the alert. It didn’t take long, but I had to do something.”

Shepard said he did not have time to contact WSU administration.

“I work for the students, not the administration,” Shepard said. “…“I try to say within my lane. That means Wichita State students.”

“I appreciate that [Shepard] got on Facebook and alerted the students, but a lot of it goes back to people being responsible for themselves,” UPD Capt. Guy Schroeder said Monday. We have lots of eyes out, but we’re not all the eyes on campus. We’re all adults here, and — in the end — we have to each be responsible for ourselves.”

Schroeder said UPD is taking steps to make campus safer, but also reiterated that officers cannot be everywhere all the time.

Morris said last week a new initiative to increase interior foot patrols. The four new officers will be hired in an expedited search process, the news release Monday said.

“We’re going to make our presence on campus more obvious than it ever has been before,” Schroeder said. “That may include new types of vehicles so we can zip across campus quicker, and security cameras in parking lots.”

The university released a statement Monday announcing the University Police Department will add four additional officers to its fleet of 28 commissioned officers, seven dispatchers and a handful of others in records and parking services.

“We recognize that several recent incidents have raised concerns about campus safety,” Morris stated in the release. “The crime rate is low, but no crime is acceptable. We will continue to send a clear message to criminals to stay away from WSU.”