Imagine you’re having a normal day, enjoying your time with friends when out of nowhere, you hear shouts warning that someone nearby has a gun.
For University of Memphis senior Allie Lindsey, this became a reality while visiting a friend’s off-campus home.
“I was walking into my friend’s house, and a guy came running out of the apartments across the street and yelled, ‘get out of here before you get shot!’” Lindsey said.
Without a doubt that the man was telling the truth, she jumped back into her car and drove away.
Although it’s not clear whether or not Lindsey was in eminent danger, assaults like these are quite rare on college campuses across the state with 70 reported cases in 2014 according to Tennessee Crime Online, a site that aggregates the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s crime statistics.
According to the University of Memphis parent resources website Memphis has “the lowest crime rate of any urban campus in Tennessee.” While this represents the actual campus, the university’s Commuter Students Association estimates that 90% of students are commuters.
One University of Memphis law student, who asked to remain anonymous, lived in one of the three mostly student occupied apartment complexes on Mynders Avenue during her undergraduate years, qualifying her as a commuter.
She said she never felt unsafe on campus, but as she walked home from class one night, a man walked up behind and grabbed her, hitting her in the face. Since this was an off-campus incident, the Memphis Police Department handled her case. Since it wasn’t handled by campus police officers, it added to the city’s crime rate instead of the university’s.
“After that I never walked home anymore, and I hardly ever walked anywhere by myself,” the law student said. “It was like there wasn’t a safe place to go after it happened.”
After the incident, a Tiger Text, the University of Memphis’s emergency text messaging service, was sent to alert students and faculty about the assault. Because police weren’t able to catch the perpetrator, the man’s description was also sent in the message to help students identify him.
Assaults are only one area of concern for University of Memphis students. In addition to upgrading to third on the FBI’s Most Dangerous Cities list as reported by a journalist with Law Street Media, handgun-related incidents such as the recent shooting scare at Mississippi State University, the murder of a professor at Delta State University and firearm situations at Memphis fraternity parties are on the rise in the Mid-South.
According to U of M Police Colonel Ray Croft, the Tiger Text alert system would be the most beneficial tool for students and faculty to have if a shooting situation ever happened on this campus.
When incidents occur off-campus, university police partner with city officers to solve crimes. Students who spend time on or off-campus should familiarize themselves with the departmental procedures listed in police services’ annual safety report Croft said.
These services, while useful in times of need, aren’t as preventative as having more police officers patrolling the area, according to senior psychology major and Belmont University transfer Rachel Lang.
“I just feel like security is really absent from campus, and since campus is open and literally anyone can walk on, we should have more patrolling security,” she said.
Lang isn’t the only one who would feel safer with additional officers on campus.
“In light of recent events, our comfort levels are changing,” Croft said. “That’s actually what I’m doing right now. I’m in the middle of adding officers to each shift. There’s a lot of concern.”
Giving campus police officers more hours is just one solution to potentially life threatening situations.
“I think we should do a better job at doing disaster and emergency preparations with students,” said former Student Government Association president and marketing senior Ricky Kirby.
Because Memphis is a city that struggles with crime, Kirby said, the university wants students and their parents to feel like nothing bad happens on campus.
“It would be great to at least give students options like informational training sessions with police services and SGA,” he added. “It would also be helpful if it was part of student employee training.”
Lindsey agreed that additional training resources like videos on what to do in emergency situations would be helpful for students.
“Students should know that life is so valuable and to take that away from someone you don’t even know is the worst thing,” she said. “Everyone is someone’s best friend, someone’s son or daughter, and someone’s whole world.”