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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.

TWITTER: @TMT_Cory

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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