The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is creating a task force that will visit all 14 state universities based on recommendations from a state senator.
State Senator Judy Schwank of the eleventh Senatorial District of Pa. sent the PASSHE Board of Governors a letter expressing concern for campus safety on March 15 after the most recent crimes on campus. She had talked to students as well as other legislators, finding that safety was a problem on other campuses as well.
The Board of Governors met on April 11 and discussed the creation of the PASSHE Public Safety and Security Task Force.
This committee will visit each campus to observe university police operations. They will look over aspects such as past crimes, funding, staffing, staff training, reporting compliance and student safety education. Then, the committee will make recommendations on the most cost-effective way to improve safety and security on the campuses.
The committee members will be from the Board of Governors, the Office of the Chancellor, councils of trustees, state police, university police, university leaders, students, legal counsel and local communities.
According to Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for PASSHE, the dates for the task force to visit have yet to be determined. However, their reports on each campus are expected to be done in the next six months.
Schwank believes that the recommendations will not necessarily require more funding for the campuses. She said that they can use resources more wisely and come up with better solutions for safety and security.
“My goal was not to blame anyone,” said Schwank. “I think this is an issue students, faculty, staff, communities[…]need to work on together. I want to be sure that we do everything we can to keep [the campuses] as crime-free as possible.”
Nick Imbesi, a Student Government Board representative, was one student who contacted Schwank, along with Kutztown Mayor Sandy Green. He said they were “a direct line of information to Senator Schwank about what kind of crimes have been taking place.”
“Students were my first contact,” said Schwank. “I felt an obligation to them to see that something was done about [safety].
Imbesi said he had friends at Millersville that were sharing the same concerns about safety as the students at Kutztown were.
“It’s a deteriorating situation at all our state institutions and it’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Imbesi.
According to Imbesi, measures for campus safety are already being carried out. The District Attourney’s office has pledged to send more police officers when there are a lot of people in town. For example, they are sending more officers on May 4 for the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Imbesi said state police are also making “More of a presence known in Maxatawny Township.”
KU police are also sending security guards into the residence halls at night.
An article on Pennlive.com singled out Kutztown as the reason the task force is being created. Imbesi said that the reason may be that Schwank put forth the request, and Kutztown is in her district. However, he thinks KU is gaining a bad reputation and urges students to write letters to the editor and spread the word about positive things they are doing.
Imbesi believes the crimes may still affect prospective students, but urges them to look past the recent crimes.
“I think if parents are truly concerned about the safety and wellbeing of their children, they’re not going to let a few media stories influence them,” said Imbesi. “I would hope they would go online and do some of their own research and find out that our campus is one of the safest in the state institutions.”
“It’s a small fraction of the students who may cause a problem,” said Imbesi. “I think we need to demonstrate to the public that the majority of the students in this institution are excelling. We’re following our dreams and we are making milestone accomplishments.”
Schwank said she was meeting the mayor, community leaders, KU administration and student leaders over the last six to eight months. Most recently, she met with Green, Imbesi, SGB Vice President Nicole Hawxhurst, university officials, state police, the Liquor Control Board, Berks County District Attorney John Adams, KU Chief of Police John Dillon and Kutztown borough Chief of Police Craig Summers.
By Emily Leayman