Winthrop University officials are working with campus police to improve the safety of all students as a result of students concerns and recent incidents.
Hailee Beltzhoover, a junior theatre performance major, is a resident of Walk2Campus.
Walk2Campus is a student housing leasing property with locations in South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee and New Hampshire.
Walk2Campus Rock Hill serves students who attend Winthrop, York Technical College and Clinton College. Walk2Campus owns houses around the Winthrop area and Campus Walk apartments on Rose Street.
Beltzhoover lives in a house across from Johnson Hall but she said she feels that her safety is not included in campus safety.
“I literally live 20 feet away from an on-campus building, and it feels like because I am not located inside the black gate that marks the perimeter of ‘campus’ I am not Winthrop’s responsibility,” Beltzhoover said.
Beltzhoover said a Winthrop officer busted a Walk2Campus house party, said he had “jurisdiction anywhere in Rock Hill” and threatened to take a student to jail.
“The priorities of the campus police are skewed,” Beltzhoover said. “They give out parking tickets and want to bust parties but when it comes to students’ safety with robberies, rapes and other huge issues, their hands are off and it’s the Rock Hill jurisdiction.”
Beltzhoover said she wants to see more Winthrop police presence on and around the campus for matters other than parties or parking tickets.
“I hope to see the university realize that Walk2Campus residents may technically live “off campus,” but those students are also using financial aid to pay rent. It is also a requirement that you are a student to lease from them. That being said, WUPD should have more responsibility to those students,” Beltzhoover said.
Some students, like Beltzhoover, say campus police focus on parking violations more than the overall safety of the student body.
WUPD officer lieutenant Charles Yearta said the Winthrop police department has two divisions: parking and police officers.
The parking division is comprised of retired, part-time civilian employees. They are not police officers and have never been in the law enforcement field. Parking employees are paid solely to patrol parking areas for violations, write tickets and set up parking for events. They do not have the same authority as police officers and they are not who responds to calls.
The police officer division includes officers like Yearta, who have the authority to investigate crimes and arrest suspects. These are real law enforcement officers, and they are who responds to students’ calls, emergencies and escort service requests.
The difference between Rock Hill jurisdiction and Winthrop jurisdiction has also been a common concern for some students.
Yearta said Winthrop jurisdiction is any property owned by Winthrop. Yearta said there are several state laws which determine what limits university police departments in investigations and arrests.
“All public universities have the right to create, in essence, their own police departments… officers who work for that police department will be appointed state constables,” Yearta said. “State constables have authority to make arrests statewide, similar to highway patrol. However, as far as investigating crime, the Winthrop University police department only investigates crimes that occurs on its campus or property that is owned by Winthrop.”
Winthrop property pertains to the main campus buildings and housing, Winthrop Coliseum and sporting areas, farming area and Winthrop parks. Yearta said campus police patrol the campus, outlying streets and Campus Walk areas.
“We don’t necessarily go beyond that because we’re paid by the university. We do have arrest authority, but our arrest authority is usually condensed to crimes that occur in front of us or on scene crimes.”
Yearta said if a student calls Winthrop police for an incident or emergency outside of their jurisdiction, they will respond, help the student and forward all information from that call to the Rock Hill Police Department for a report to be filed. Campus police will also make sure the student is safe.
According to Yearta, if a student flags down a campus officer outside of their jurisdiction and there is an incident occurring or just happened, the officer will assist. If the recent situation was dangerous, like an assault, the officers will make sure the student is safe, call RHPD and begin searching that area for the suspect.
Yearta said Winthrop police responded to the sexual assault and robbery incident which happened on Friday Feb. 15 because of the type of crime and it happened in an area where campus police routinely patrol.
“Because our students live at Campus Walk, we’re still going to respond. We’re gonna start looking for the bad guy, make sure the victim has the assistance that they need right then and there,” Yearta said. “We’re going to, at the same time, call Rock Hill to make sure that Rock Hill’s officers respond because Rock Hill Police Department are the ones who would eventually be pressing charges.”
Winthrop President Dan Mahony said the students safety is the university’s main priority.
Mahony said the university is planning to have an open forum to address recent incidents and student safety. The university has also been in communication with RHPD to expand police presence around the campus.
Mahony said Winthrop police presence is also being increased around the campus, and they have hired two new officers to fill the positions officers who recently left the department.
He said the university is also checking all of the emergency call boxes around campus, street lights and replacing bulbs and other materials to maintain the upkeep for student safety.
Mahony said Brad Hastings, the chief operating officer for Walk2Campus, contacted him to discuss student concerns and ways that Winthrop and Walk2Campus could collaborate to ensure the safety of Walk2Campus and Campus Walk residents.
“We are always focused and concerned about campus safety, and even if the numbers aren’t necessarily high, one thing is horrible — what happened last Friday — is too many,” Mahony said. “We’re aware of safety issues and are doing everything we can to improve campus safety.”
The issues Hastings and Mahony discussed were the topic of a community meeting held at the Campus Walk leasing office Thursday evening.
Hastings was joined by residents and Campus police Assistant Chief Wesley Wiles and three RHPD officers including the two detectives who worked on the most recent incident at Campus Walk and other property management for Campus Walk.
According to the panel, the community is planning to work on ways to make the the community safer, making sure all community safety measures are working properly, eliminating the amount of suspicious activity and increasing the presence of RHPD.