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Student Responsibility Urged in Aftermath of Off-Campus Crimes

Pennsylvania College of Technology President Davie Jane Gilmour reassures students that their safety, security and education remain paramount in the wake of recent off-campus crimes. Doubling off-campus police patrols, encouraging faculty and staff vigilance, and using the eyes and ears of the student body to report suspicious activities are among the weapons Pennsylvania College of Technology will use to support community safety in the wake of recent crimes in the city.

An estimated 750 or more students turned out for a Tuesday afternoon meeting to discuss safety. Classes were suspended during that hour to encourage attendance at the meeting, moved from the Klump Academic Center Auditorium to Bardo Gymnasium to handle the overflow crowd.

Penn College Police Chief Chris Miller apprises all-student meeting of recent crimes - and the administrative response. The session began with an overview by Penn College Police Chief Chris Miller of recent crimes. The chief reported on the facts “beyond the rumor stage” of apartment burglaries at 18 different addresses near campus and four shootings that occurred across the city within 35 minutes of one another on Jan. 4. (Details on these crimes were disclosed to students, parents, employees, and the public in an all-College communication prior to the opening of the semester.)

While none of the incidents occurred on campus ,the chief and college President Davie Jane Gilmour urged students to know their neighborhoods and their neighbors, and to be constantly aware of their surroundings and those with whom they come in contact.

Chief Miller explained that three individuals have been apprehended in connection with some of the apartment burglaries. Among those apprehended, he said, are individuals who indicated they knew the students and had previously been inside the apartments involved. The president said she is not so naïve as to believe that some students are not acquainted with the criminal element in the broader Williamsport community.

“The burglaries happened because people you trusted took advantage of you. They’re not students, but they partied with you, hung out with you and knew what was in your apartments,” Gilmour said.

Hundreds of interested students fill the gymnasium bleachers for the informational meeting. The president and police chief outlined a number of the college’s safeguards and responses in the aftermath of the crimes: boosting off-campus patrols and increasing police visibility on campus, full disclosure to students’ parents, heightened cooperation with local landlords and the Williamsport Bureau of Police, and a planned increase in emergency telephones in student neighborhoods.

They also took questions from the audience; among them a student’s concern that the additional security measures will translate into higher tuition. The president said sufficient money is in the police budget and emphasized there will be no adverse financial effect on students and their families.

Another student suggested that he be permitted to carry his licensed handgun to and from class, but was told that college policy prohibits possession of firearms or other weapons on campus property.

When a young man wondered aloud whether the increased patrols and tighter scrutiny will spell an end to fun, Gilmour said her administration is not interested in turning students into “hermits,” deprived of the social life that is integral to the college experience.

President Gilmour talks individually with students after Tuesday's meeting in Bardo Gymnasium. “We only ask that you be responsible, that you use common sense, that you choose to be smart,” she stressed. “Don’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. We can’t let them undo the good that we do at Penn College. We can’t let them disrupt your education.”

They also reminded students of the phone number for campus police (570) 327-4760 and the availability of the confidential “ Silent Witness” tip line on the police Web site.

“I can have 50 officers, Williamsport can have 200, but we still can’t do it by ourselves,” Miller said. “Know who’s coming into your house, know who you’re hanging with, know where you’re going. Freshmen should talk with upperclassmen; seniors should talk with younger students. Be a community, learn from one another.”

Responsible students are among the administration’s greatest allies, added Gilmour, who related a pointed example from last year.

“One night, a student lab assistant stopped Dr. (William) Martin (senior vice president) and me as we were leaving and told us he was suspicious of three individuals in the building,” the president said. “Within minutes, Penn College Police apprehended the individuals, none of whom had any business being on campus and one of whom was wanted by authorities.”

“That student saved this college a lot of money that night,” the president said. “And three minutes is all it took.”

With students already counting the days to Spring Break and with the recent apartment burglaries still very much on the mind of victims and administrators alike she implored students to make wise decisions.

“You can choose to make yourself vulnerable or you can choose to be smart,” Gilmour said. “I know you’re all smart enoug h and caring enough to do the right thing.”

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