Corinne Whipple & Jaiquez Hagood

Editor’s note: This story was originally filed in early March during the spring semester, prior to the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

(Rock Hill, S.C) — Living on campus can sometimes make students feel uncomfortable especially in the first year, but Winthrop University’s Campus Police department says it is working to keep the community safe.

However, some students have raised concerns and have said they feel safety on campus could be improved.

For example, some have expressed concerns about lights that are burnt out along campus walkways or being unable to get an officer escort when walking across campus at night.

Charles Yearta, the assistant police chief for the university police Department, appeared on the Palmetto Report podcast to discuss some of these concerns.

Yearta said the safety of students is the department’s first concern.

In regards to concerns about lights not working around campus, Yearta said that night shift officers will periodically take note of the fixtures that are in need of repair.

If a light can go without repair for a while, because the lighting in the area is still sufficient, he said, it will not be top priority.

“What we tend to do is when we get those complaints we go out to those areas at that time of night,” Yearta said.

He said the university must consider the costs associated with those repairs when making decisions.

Yearta also discussed the departments efforts to show a presence on campus.

“We start out with the basic presence factor. So the university in of itself sets aside a good deal of money for their police department. It is a state-wide law enforcement agency, it’s not a security department,” he said.

“The officers that you see patrolling in the cars and around the campus are fully certified officers, who which have statewide authority. Their presence and visibility is one of the biggest deterrence to crimes we have.”

Yearta said the department tries to educate students, especially first-year students who may come to Winthrop without the basic understanding of college life, to inform them on how to stay safe.

“So we do a lot of outreach with orientation and we do a lot of outreach with admissions. So for instance when a student takes a tour around campus sometimes we get those tour groups to come in here and they’ll speak to us before they even apply here,” Yearta said.

“Once you actually apply and accepted then you tell the university ‘yes, I’m coming to Winthrop,’ then you’re mandated to go through a variety of orientation sessions. Some of them occur during summer, some of them occur during ACAD or first-year experience.”

Finally, Yearta said students often have concerns and questions about parking on campus.

“When you’re in high school, unfortunately, the way most high schools are designed, your parking space is literally right next to the building. When you get into higher (education) that fantasy goes away,” he said.

“Unfortunately at every institution of higher education, from the small ones that are smaller than us to the bigger ones like (University of South Carolina) or (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), parking is a nightmare on their campuses. It is rare that you are able to park next to a building, every single time you move your car or every single time you come back onto campus. It just doesn’t happen. We have those same kind of problems here.”