With 344 homicides in 2015, it is not surprising that the Baltimore area’s violent reputation has become a focal point of discussion nationwide. The last year in particular was not too good for Baltimore; chaos over protests and riots mixed in with general crime activity led to the highest rate of murder per capita ever recorded in the city. The overall crime rate for 2015 was approximately 6,390 per 100,000 people, according to the Brennan Institute for Justice.
Keeping those numbers in mind, it’s not too hard to see why prospective students (not to mention their parents) might be a little hesitant to consider a potentially violent or unsafe environment as a good option for college. So what does UMBC do to address the perception of violence that seems to go hand-in-hand with the Baltimore area?
For starters, there is a need to correct certain misconceptions about the UMBC area, as UMBC Police Deputy Chief Paul Dillon explains. The higher crime rates correspond to Baltimore City, which has a higher crime rate than the state of Maryland overall. The suburban nature of the area surrounding the university, as well as UMBC’s high commuter population, make for an extremely low incidence of crimes on campus, with the most reported crime being theft.
In order to address the violent perception of the area, UMBC police works with crime prevention programs, presentations and orientation panels to both students and parents. To put minds at ease, there are also tips on personal safety and basic information on how to stay safe, accepting minor inconveniences that can make all the difference, such as taking the time to make sure all doors and windows are locked. Widespread across the nation’s campuses, with UMBC being no exception, are emergency blue lights dispersed throughout campus, allowing for simple and fast contact with the police in case of emergency.
However, UMBC goes far beyond blue lights and safety tips. Officers continuously interact with students, faculty and staff, forging bonds in the community and creating an approachable, positive attitude that encourages university constituents to seek help whenever it is needed. Programs with UMBC police around campus center on health and wellness, safety and emergency preparedness involve both police and campus community. Besides all of that, UMBC police works with organizations in the university, such as Voices Against Violence and the Title IX Resource Team in order to provide support and guidance and raise awareness about sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and harassment.
UMBC’s police department also works closely with university counseling, in order to be better prepared to deal with cases surrounding mental health: the university requires officers to go through mental health first aid training, so there is adequate support as such cases become more common. By working with the counseling center, officers are also able to do emergency commitments; if someone is deemed a danger to themselves or others, UMBC police officers can take them to the hospital to be evaluated.
An experienced and committed police force also helps bring some peace of mind to students and parents. According to Dillon, the average experience for officers at the department is around 15 years and university constituents have relied on their help for problems ranging from theft and assault to jump-starting cars and retrieving keys. UMBC Police, a department from UMBC’s Division of Administration and Finance, also relies on yearly surveys regarding the students’ opinions on services provided by the force.