This semester ESU has experienced something quite frightening, a surge in violent crimes involving students. While not all of the crimes occurred on campus, the fact that students have been victims is something that spreads alarm across the campus and the surrounding community. Since the beginning of this semester alone, ESU students have been the victims of crimes such as sexual assault and attempted robbery. Stories about the rise in violent crime rates involving students have gained a lot of coverage including pieces featured in the Pocono Record and on Channel 69 News.
It is a big deal. That’s straight from the mouth of ESU Chief of Police, Robin Olson who has seen a lot in his nearly five years in the position. However, this semester has raised new challenges. “We’ve had our share of busy semesters,” Olson explains, “but when you talk about violent crime, this has been very active.” Olson categorizes violent crime as ones ESU students have been the victims of, including attempted strong arm robbery, assaults, shots fired, sexual assaults.
Whether the crime is perpetrated on campus or off campus, most students contact the ESU police first. “A lot of times when they involve students, we’re the students’ first point of contact. Students are familiar with us, they see us, they know where we’re located and such. So, if they’re victimized, whether it be on campus or off campus, a lot of times this is the point that they know to go to,” says Olson. From there the ESU police works with the jurisdiction or agency that would hold primary responsibility for the area in which the crime was committed. If a crime happens on campus, the ESUPD is usually responsible. Often times for crimes that happen off campus, that is typically the responsibility of Stroud Area Regional Police or the Pennsylvania State Police at Swiftwater. In those cases which involve students, ESU Police then helps in the investigation that might follow.
Many of these crimes have been occurring during the late night and early morning hours. Chief Olson and the ESUPD have recognized a trend among the incidents. Olson says, “The only commonality that we’ve seen in these incidences that we can prove so far is the fact that it hasn’t been just men, and it hasn’t been just women, there’s been both sexes, but the commonality is the fact that it’s been at night when people are out alone.” That’s the big issue. “In each of these cases, whether it be the attempted strong arm robbery, the assaults, the sexual assaults – the victims have all been alone,” Olson says.
In response to these crimes, the ESUPD has tried to make a change to some aspects of how they do things including increasing patrol during the nighttime hours, but it’s been difficult. Olson explains, “We’re limited in some scope of what we have available in staffing and what we can do. What we’ve done, we’ve added some nights in what we’ve done what we call saturation patrols where we bring in a lot of extra staff, and we just try to hit everything and be everywhere. We’ve obviously tried to increase our visibility on campus. We’ve added some undercover patrols where we’ve gone into plan clothes to focus on some areas that we’ve gotten complaints about. We’re trying to keep a variety of things going to help us hopefully be at the right place at the right time.” It is important to remember that all of these efforts being made by the ESUPD can only be seen on campus. They do not have jurisdiction on nearby but off campus streets where ESU students can typically be found like Ransberry, Green, and Lackawanna.
Chief Olson says he hopes to get the word about safe practices out to the campus and the community because there are only sixteen of them and roughly 7,500 students. He needs students to be vigilant. “If they see something suspicious, report it, let us know. Be proactive in helping us be a part of the solution,” says Olson. He adds that he’s already seeing it, “We’ve started to see some people come forward with some of the alerts that we’ve put out. We’ve got some information back from individuals that hopefully will help us in the course of our investigations.”
Also on the rise, people using the services provided that are meant to keep them safe. Olson says, “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in people using both the taxi services as well as using the escort service that we have on campus. So, those are positives. There are good things that come out of a bad thing happening.”
Life goes on, and Chief Olson wants students to continue going about their daily lives, but also wants them to take away lessons from the things that have happened. “Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to potentially be a victim of a crime,” advises Olson. If you’re going out with friends, stay together. One person shouldn’t leave early or stay later because they then put themselves alone in an unfamiliar environment. Use taxis and the escort service on campus. If you need a ride, have friends available that you can call. As far as when you are out, Olson wants you to “be aware of your surroundings. Don’t go to places you’re not familiar with. Be aware of what’s going on. Look for people that might seem out of place or suspicious in their actions. There are 7,500 students, so the odds of being a victim are small, but the odds of potentially seeing something suspicious going on and being a good witness are a lot higher.”
If you do see something suspicious, the best way to contact the ESU Police is by dialing their emergency number, 570-422-2000. Another good number to call, 911. The ESUPD can be dispatched directly through the 911 center. The blue light emergency phones on campus are another way to contact the ESU Police in case of emergency.
The ESUPD recently hosted a forum in which they talked to students and addressed their concerns. One student expressed an uneasiness about when it was appropriate to push the blue light box button. “I said ‘push it,’” Olson said, “If you’re ever in doubt, push it. There’s no problem with us coming and saying, ‘well thanks for the information, but there’s not much we can do.’ I’d rather do that a thousand times than one time have somebody in a serious or even semiserious situation say I didn’t push the button.” Olson also doesn’t want students to hesitate in calling to use the escort service. He says, “the service is here for them to use.” The ESU Police plans on holding another forum like that one again in the near future.
Chief Olson specifically wants to impress upon the student body that it basically comes down to the idea of not putting yourself in potentially dangerous situations. That is one way to reduce the likelihood of crime, don’t allow the opportunity for it to become available. Utilize the safe alternatives available, and most importantly be aware.