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SC universities tackling crime with innovative solutions...and it's working

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Police gate off all SC State pedestrian entrances except one after 8 p.m. Police gate off all SC State pedestrian entrances except one after 8 p.m.
USC has invested in more than 240 emergency call boxes and hundreds of surveillance cameras across campus. USC has invested in more than 240 emergency call boxes and hundreds of surveillance cameras across campus.
After 6 p.m. Clemson students can log onto an app and call for a free ride. After 6 p.m. Clemson students can log onto an app and call for a free ride.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and the murder of a Coastal Carolina University student, some college campuses in South Carolina are taking another look at crime rates.

We took a look at three universities as a part of our report: South Carolina State University, the Columbia campus of the University of South Carolina, and Clemson University.

Starting at SC State, we learned of a new line of thinking from the university's new police chief, Menard Clarkson.

Clarkson took over the police department several months ago and knew he had to do something about the crime rate at the Orangeburg college.

The chief discovered a problem: many of the crimes his officers investigated weren't committed by students. Instead, criminals were coming in from the outside.

Clarkson had a simple solution: shut down SC State's campus at night.

"When you're not able to just come onto the university and just ride around without a purpose, to cruise around campus looking to maybe get into things that you shouldn't, once we lock this gate, one access gate, everybody that enters that gate is logged into campus," said Clarkson.

Police gated off all pedestrian entrances except one after 8 p.m. Each vehicle entering the campus is logged along with a description of the people inside the car.

If there's a crime on campus and a description given, investigators have a place to start looking. The chief says it has already made a difference.

"The most significant observation was the month of February," said Clarkson. "We actually went the entire month of February without any violent index crimes being reported here at South Carolina State University."

That hasn't always been the case. In 2011, SLED charged an Orangeburg man with murdering a student during an on-campus drug deal. In January, SLED agents investigated the rape a student inside the restroom of a dorm.

Between 2009 and 2011, the university's crime stats show five rape cases, 43 robberies, 12 assaults and 243 vehicle thefts.

However, those numbers are going down. Police reported zero rapes in 2011, robberies fell from 22 to eight, and burglaries dropped from 100 in 2010 to 53 in 2011.

Clarkson also put a full-time officer in the university's largest dorm. The idea is to put the department closer to students and to form relationships with them to remove any hesitancy in reporting a crime when they see one.

The chief says it all led to the drop in violent crimes at SC State, and reduces the odds that students become targets.

"What we do on a daily basis is most important, and I think the changes that we've made over the short period of time is going to impact the progress we continue to make over a long period of time," said Clarkson.

"I think any day that we can go in law enforcement without those types of crimes happening is a successful day."

Clarkson's approach may work for his smaller campus, but it would be more difficult to implement at larger campuses like USC's and Clemson's.

In Columbia, when the sun goes down on USC, the trouble comes up. USC students, whether they're headed to the library, dorms, classes, or even trips to off-campus bars, they are often targets for criminals.

USC's campus is spread out over hundreds of city blocks with no way to seal off campus from the world around it.

"We are an open campus and we have a vibrant community," said USC police Capt. Eric Grabski. "Our community is out at all times during the day and night."

Grabski says USC's layout forces his department to police a little differently than other universities across the state.

Criminals jumping from cars have robbed students walking along sidewalks around campus. Last month, a USC camera photographed a car used in an armed robbery on campus where three men used a gun to force a student to hand over his wallet.Four weeks ago, one man raped a student near a USC dorm, then stole her wallet and phone.

Given that information, is the USC campus a safe place to be when the sun goes down?

"Well, statistically our campus is a safe place to be, but that's a statistic," said Grabski.

The bulk of USC's crime reports show drinking and drug arrests are most common. Since 2008, USC police reported working 134 drinking cases and 411 drug cases. Student disciplinary records show 1,089 drug cases and 6,120 drinking cases made against students between 2008 and 2011. Those numbers are growing each year.

USC violent crime stats show eight rapes between 2008 and 2011, 11 robberies, 34 assaults, and 540 burglaries. Records show burglaries are the fastest-growing violent crime at USC.

The university invested in more than 240 emergency call boxes and hundreds of cameras across campus. The cameras, according to police, are paying off.

Last September, using campus cameras, Grabski says they tracked down Jonnie Lee Howle and Donte Mayberry after police say the pair robbed a student on the Pickens Street bridge. Using video of the men, Grabski says, they got the leads they needed.

"We were able to put all that together and we were able to put somebody in jail," said Grabski. "So, the technology we have on campus is growing and it's working and it's helped to keep our conviction rate higher than perhaps it would have been if we didn't have it."

Meanwhile, in the Upstate at Clemson's campus, police there face a similar issue: a spread out campus. However, the campus is more rural.

Clemson police Chief Johnson Link says one problem his students encounter at night is getting to remote parking lots with little lighting. So after 6 p.m. students can log onto an app and call for a free ride.

"[That] has helped us reduce that," said Link. "You don't eliminate it, but I think the idea. We have three of these buses running all over campus, all in the parking lots. So there's always movement and again, I think that's a good deterrence for folks that are thinking about doing something."

But Clemson, like USC, is dealing with growing alcohol and drug violations. Since 2009, Clemson student disciplinary records show the number of student drug cases have nearly doubled, and the number of liquor law violations grew from 257 cases to 400. That's something Chief Link says his officers are aggressively policing.

"We let folks know when they come to Clemson, underage possession is against the law, and if we catch you, we're going to charge you," said Link. "It's just that simple."

With both universities seeing their drug and alcohol cases climbing, they credit that rise to more active police work.

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