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Annual campus security reports reflect changes on local campuses, overall crime down

Crime is down at Smith County colleges, even as they face the challenges of expansion.

Annual crime reports are one tool a parent can access when researching their children’s future college or university.

This year’s reports from Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler show drops in all categories of crimes against people, as well as improvements in crimes related to drugs and alcohol.

The reports released cover crimes occurring on college campuses during the 2018 calendar year. That year UT Tyler opened a new facility, added a parking garage and purchased an apartment complex to be converted for student housing. It was also the year that Tyler Junior College saw its enrollment surge to a record high of more than 12,200 students.

While the reports help give a picture of campus safety, they do not reflect all crimes. For example, aggravated assault is included on the reports, but simple assault is not. An assault is typically classified as aggravated assault when a weapon is used or serious bodily harm occurs. Harassment and indecent exposure also would not make the annual report.

Reporting requirements have changed over the years to ensure crimes are reported accurately; this year’s report includes statutory rape. Reporting for sex crimes also has become more specific in the past few years with a change from classification of “forcible” or “non-forcible” to the current breakdown of rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape.

In many states, sexual assaults that fall short of the legal definition of rape might be charged as assault by contact, which would not make the report if improperly categorized as an assault rather than fondling.

Campuses also now report the number of sexual assaults reported to Title IX officials, as some victims choose not to pursue charges. Hate crime statistics also are included. Hate crimes are defined as crimes motivated in part or full by the offender’s bias toward the victim’s race, sexual orientation, religion or other factors.

The police chiefs at TJC and UT Tyler said as the colleges expand their footprints in the region, handling crime and reporting it accurately can become more difficult.

TJC now has campuses in five locations, including within the state hospital in Rusk. UT Tyler has campuses in four locations, including a school of engineering in Houston and three K-12 charter schools.

The UT Health Science Center at Tyler now offers master’s degrees in three areas and continues to expand. While the overall reporting requirements are the same, parents may notice that each report will look somewhat different.

UT Health Science Center at Tyler

UT Health Science Center’s report shows two aggravated assaults in 2018. It also showed one simple assault that listed race as a factor.

UT Health Science Center began compiling a Clery report after the launch of its master’s degree in public health in 2016.

Crime statistics reflect only the educational programs at the Health Science Center and are not related to the doctor’s offices there.

The campus reported one aggravated assault and one liquor law violation in 2017.

University of Texas at Tyler

The University of Texas at Tyler reported two rapes and one fondling in 2018. The two rapes were reported through the university’s Title IX office.

The university had no aggravated assaults or robberies reported and burglaries dropped from four in 2017 to three in 2018. There was one reported incident of domestic violence. Dating violence dropped to none from three reported incidents in 2017.

Liquor law violations dropped slightly from 27 to 24 and citations held even at 47. Drug violation arrests jumped from 25 to 43, but citations dropped from 43 in 2017 to 25 in 2018.

The university purchased the apartment complex Victory Village, formerly called The Reserve, for student housing in 2018. As with the purchase of the Liberty Landing apartment complex, substance abuse violations saw an uptick during the transition as the leases of nonstudent residents ended and they were transitioned out of the property.

“Similar to the acquisition of what is now Liberty Landing in 2014, we had many non-UT Tyler affiliated tenants who still had active leases when Victory Village was acquired,” UT Tyler Police Chief Mike Medders said. “There are challenges when we are dealing with nonaffiliated tenants. Those tenants are not bound by the university judicial process as our students are, so there are less deterrents for illegal behavior. When the leases expire, and the apartment complex becomes 100% UT Tyler affiliated persons, violations of criminal statutes are normally reduced.”

In 2018 the university also opened its new Soules College of Business facility and the adjacent parking garage on the south side of campus along University Boulevard.

Medders said that since 2018 the college has added 16 new blue light emergency phones in those areas, as well as more than 200 video cameras.

The campus also has increased staffing to keep pace with student and campus growth. Medders said the department also regularly conducts safety and preparedness training sessions.

Tyler Junior College

At Tyler Junior College, campus officials have had to keep pace with record student enrollment each semester for the past few years. Adding more than 500 students per semester can present unique challenges, but the college began a complete overhaul of its campus safety and security in 2018.

In late 2017, former FBI supervisor Brent Chambers was brought on as the director of public safety to lead an overhaul of safety and security at all of the college’s campuses. Chief Michael Seale was hired in October 2018 and the campus also created an administration-level advisory board to review safety and security.

Reports of rape dropped from nine in 2017 to four in 2018. The campus made significant changes to housing policy from 2017 to 2018 in response to a rash of sexual assaults and shootings on or near campus. These changes included raising GPA requirements and conducting background checks when students apply for housing as well as a second background check before they move in.

Three of the four reports listed were reported through Title IX.

The 2018 report shows two rapes reported at the TJC Rusk campus, which provides nursing and health science courses at Rusk State Hospital.

Seale said those reports were investigated by the Rusk Police Department. Both the perpetrator and victim were patients of the hospital and had no connection to TJC students or faculty.

Aggravated assaults were up, with six reported. Burglary reports were down from nine in 2017 to six in 2018.

Substance abuse violations were down significantly in 2018. Drug violation arrests dropped from 19 to five, and disciplinary referrals related to drug violations dropped from 34 to 11. The campus saw just one liquor law violation arrest and disciplinary referrals related to liquor law violations dropped from 28 to six.

“At the college level, there was stricter adherence to current school polices involving illegal substances,” Seale said. “In addition, the police department adopted a zero tolerance for drug offenses. As a result of the combined efforts, the number of violations decreased.”

The department also has increased its outreach to students, participating in community events and hosting events such as “Coffee With a Cop.”

“The goal of our efforts have been to be involved in the campus community, take steps to make people feel comfortable reporting issues to us, and to hopefully prevent issues before they arise,” he said.

Seale also has made changes to the daily activity log to make it more accessible to parents and students. The daily activity reports from 2018 comprise two notebooks full of call descriptions, most of which are notifications about building alarms. Now, when visitors walk into the campus police station, a digital readout of recent incidents is on the wall.

“All of the information about a crime or suspected crime will be in one row,” Seale said. “No one will have to read through pages to find out information on a report.”

Seale said it also would exclude the facility alarms, which made up the vast majority of the previous logbooks.

Texas College

This year’s report from Texas College shows just one incident of dating violence, one drug law violation and one weapon violation. The report shows no other crimes for 2018. In 2017 the only crimes reported were three drug law violations.

Unlike the much larger colleges in Tyler, Texas College does not have an independent police department. The college utilizes private security and maintains a relationship with the Tyler Police Department. The security team also maintains its daily reports.


CityFest draws thousands to downtown Tyler; final day of festival on Sunday

Thousands of East Texans gathered Saturday in downtown Tyler for the first of the two-day CityFest event.

The event featured music, action sports, children’s activities and opportunities to hear the Gospel.

Saturday’s scheduled performers were Ryan Stevenson, Blanca and Newsboys United. Sunday’s evening lineup includes musical artists Pat Barrett, Marisol, Neal McCoy and Lecrae. Evangelist Andrew Palau is the scheduled speaker both nights.

The festival is the culmination of about two years of planning. The Luis Palau Association is putting on the event in partnership with hundreds of area churches.

In the past week, CityFest activities have included luncheons, a rodeo, Fiesta Latina and prison outreaches.

For months prior to this weekend, East Texas churches have partnered to help the community through CityServe — a program in which teams worked to address six issues in the region that they felt churches needed to be involved with.

These issues were: foster care and adoption, racial reconciliation, homelessness, mentoring, sexual exploitation and behavioral health.

The final day of the festival kicks off at 4 p.m. Sunday with the main stage program set to start at 6 p.m.

For more information, visit CityFest East Texas on Facebook or cityfest.org.

Abortion, immigrants, LGBT rights top high court's new term

WASHINGTON — Abortion rights as well as protections for young immigrants and LGBT people top an election-year agenda for the Supreme Court. Its conservative majority will have ample opportunity to flex its muscle, testing Chief Justice John Roberts’ attempts to keep the court clear of Washington partisan politics.

Guns could be part of a term with plenty of high-profile cases and at least the prospect of the court’s involvement in issues revolving around the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump and related disputes between the White House and congressional Democrats.

The court also could be front and center in the presidential campaign itself, especially with health concerns surrounding 86-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Its biggest decisions are likely to be handed down in late June, four months before the election.

If last year was a time for the court to maintain a collective low profile following Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s stormy confirmation, the new term marks a return to the spotlight.

“The court seemed to do everything it could to rise above the partisan rancor,” said David Cole, the national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “This term, it’s going to be harder for the court.”

How far the court is willing to go in any case that is likely to divide the liberal and conservative justices probably will come down to Roberts. He is essentially the court’s new swing justice, a conservative who is closest to the court’s center. He also has spoken repeatedly against the perception that the court is a political branch of government, much like Congress and the White House.

Last term, on the same day in late June, Roberts joined the conservatives in ending federal court challenges to partisan electoral maps and sided with the liberals to block the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The new term might pose the sternest test yet of Roberts’ stewardship of the court. Roberts also would preside over any Senate trial of Trump, if the House impeaches the president.

The justices return to the bench Monday with cases about whether states can abolish an insanity defense for criminal defendants and allow non-unanimous juries to convict defendants of some crimes.

The next day, they will take up two cases about whether federal civil rights law protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination. They are the first rights cases since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the fifth vote for and wrote the court’s major gay rights decisions.

With Kavanaugh in Kennedy’s place and Trump’s other appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, also on the bench, the outcome is far from certain. The Trump administration also has reversed the Obama administration’s view that LGBT people are covered by the Title 7 provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.

“It would be huge for the LGBT community to have protection in the private sector from employment discrimination,” said Paul Smith, a veteran Supreme Court litigator who has argued past gay rights cases.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would remove any doubt about Title 7’s application in cases of sexual orientation and gender identity, but is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

In November, the justices will hear arguments over the Trump administration’s plan to end the Obama-era program that has protected roughly 700,000 young immigrants from deportation and provided them with permits to work in the United States legally.

Lower courts have so far blocked the administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

As in the LGBT rights cases, the court fight over DACA could be made irrelevant by congressional action authorizing the program. But Congress seems unlikely to do anything before the court rules.

The abortion case probably will be argued during the winter and is another test of whether the change in the court’s composition will result in a different outcome. The Louisiana law that forces abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is virtually the same as a Texas law the court struck down in 2016, when Kennedy joined the liberal justices to form a majority.

Roberts dissented in 2016, but he voted with the liberals in February to block the Louisiana law, at least temporarily. It was a rare vote against an abortion restriction that could point up the tension between Roberts’ legal views on abortion and his institutional interests in upholding even prior decisions with which he disagrees.

Apart from its lineup of big cases, the court itself could be an issue in the unfolding presidential campaign. Some Democrats and liberals are talking about structural changes to increase the size of the court or limit the terms of future justices.

The 2016 campaign played out amid a Supreme Court vacancy following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. While Senate Republicans blocked any consideration of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, Trump released a list of potential nominees and about one-quarter of Trump voters said the Supreme Court was the most important factor in their vote for him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Republicans would confirm a Trump nominee to the Supreme Court, even if a vacancy arose during 2020.

Election-year retirements are very unusual, and the two oldest justices, Ginsburg and 81-year-old Stephen Breyer, would not want to give Trump a third high court seat to fill. Both were appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

But Ginsburg has had two bouts with cancer in less than a year, including radiation treatment in August for a tumor on her pancreas. She has kept up a steady stream of public appearances to signal that she is still here. The events, she said, energize her. “When I am active, I am much better than when I am just lying about feeling sorry for myself,” she said at an appearance in New York.

She’s hardly alone on the lecture circuit. Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Gorsuch have been out trying to drum up sales for their new books. Even the newest justice, Kavanaugh, will raise his profile somewhat. He is scheduled to be the principal speaker at the Federalist Society’s November dinner in front of more than 2,000 people.