Kentucky State University Police Chief Stephanie Bastin doesn’t hesitate when asked to name the biggest crime problem on campus: theft.
Unlocked dorm room doors become targets for stolen laptops and video game systems. Backpacks left unattended on desks disappear. Less frequently, items are stolen from parked cars.
And this semester, Bastin says theft of student ID cards is on the rise – they now hold all of a student’s account information, including meal plans and spending money.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in the theft of those IDs,” she said. “Right now, that’s what we’re focusing on.”
FBI data released last week shows significantly more property crimes were reported on the KSU campus in 2008 than the year before – 20 cases of theft and burglary skyrocketed to 117.
Violent crimes also grew from one in 2007 to five in 2008 – three robberies, and two forcible rapes.
At the same time, five other Kentucky universities saw property crimes increase. Two more reported a jump in violent crimes.
Only the University of Louisville and KSU reported spikes in both numbers. The statistics do not include criminal convictions. Data for 2009 wasn’t available.
But KSU’s head of police, hired in January 2008, attributes the increase to a change in management and the way crimes are reported.
“We encourage prompt and accurate reporting of all criminal activity on campus,” she said. “And I don’t know that that was done before.”
Bastin, a 28-year veteran of the University of Kentucky police department, replaced former KSU Chief Donnie Turner. The university did not comment on his departure, but said it would implement a new, community-oriented focus within the department.
Emergency call boxes and surveillance cameras have been installed on campus. Students now enter residence halls and dorm rooms with their student ID cards, and there is an emergency notification system in place.
“I am confident that crime has not gone up since I have been here,” Bastin said Wednesday.
“As a matter of fact, we have seen a decrease. You don’t see that in the numbers, but we have instituted a different type of records management system than existed before.
“I cannot, with confidence say that I know what occurred in 2007 occurred in 2007. I can tell you that what happened in 2008 is what happened in 2008.”
Since Bastin’s hire, the number of campus officers has tripled. A larger force allows officers to respond to more campus crimes, and that explains part of the increase, she said.
According to FBI data, the university police department employed four officers and four civilians in 2007. In 2008 there were nine full-time officers, and now there are 12.
After an upcoming promotion, Bastin says there will be 13. New positions were created in 2008, and several officers were terminated or resigned, she said.
“There weren’t enough officers here to service the community,” she said. “There just wasn’t enough staff to adequately function.”
A larger staff allows for patrol services, crime prevention programs and security for special events on campus. Bastin says 19 officers would give KSU a fully staffed force.
“With the current budget constraints that’s not going to happen,” she said.
In the past, students had to go to the police department to fill out reports of thefts or car break-ins, she said.
“That’s not the way we operate (now),” she said. “We respond to the community. … We immediately respond to them, we file the report, we work the case.”
All KSU officers meet the requirements of the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council, and they attend additional training in bombs, sexual assault, computer crimes, domestic violence and active shooter scenarios.
“They all have the exact same training as any other police officer in the state has,” Bastin said.
But that doesn’t mean all police officers are suited for working at a university, she said. It takes patient, caring and experienced officers.
The department runs the Adopt a Cop program, assigning an officer to each residence hall to build relationships with students.
They give monthly lessons in personal and property safety, drinking and driving and wearing seat belts. This month, they labeled students’ electronics with invisible ink – an alternative to the old method of engraving it.
“We have yet to hire a police officer that we’ve had to put through the academy,” she said.
“Policing on a university campus is completely different than policing in an urban area.”
KSU police officers operate under limited jurisdiction – any property that is owned or leased by the university, and the streets that run contiguous to it.
Not all campus crimes are prosecuted.
“We don’t want these students carrying the baggage of a record,” Bastin said.
Felonies and serious cases are referred to the county attorney or commonwealth’s attorney. But Student Affairs handles the rest, assigning students to community service, or putting them on social probation, barring them from campus events.
“Not everybody needs to go through the court system,” said Tiua Chilton, assistant police chief.
“If it’s something that we feel like we can deal with better here on campus, then the officer has that as an option.”
In more serious cases, students can be suspended or expelled from the university – those crimes usually go through the court system. Officers use their own discretion in making that decision, Chilton said.