Langston University Police Chief Frank Atkinson has only been on campus since August. But already the students have a nickname for him — “Homeland Security.”
Building a rapport with students on campus is a big part of Atkinson’s role, he said. But as for the nickname, he said he doesn’t know much about it.
“I’ve heard rumblings,” he said.
Atkinson heads the agency tasked with keeping the peace on a campus that has struggled to combat a crime problem that has existed several years.
The latest campus crime statistics show Langston continues to lead the state in aggravated assaults, although that figure dropped sharply last year.
In 2011, Langston saw 13 aggravated assaults, according to federal campus crime data.
Although that’s a sharp drop from the 20 cases the campus saw the previous year, it’s still nearly as many as every other public college and university in the state combined.
Before coming to Langston this year, Atkinson worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — hence the nickname — and before that for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. He wouldn’t speculate about assaults that took place before he came to Langston but said it’s generally difficult to pinpoint exactly where campus crime begins.
Students come to a university from a range of backgrounds, he said, and those experiences affect their behavior. It’s the university’s job to make it clear that violence and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated, he said.
“This behavior doesn’t start at Langston University, or any other university, for that matter,” he said. “It has no specific origin.”
According to incident reports, the 13 aggravated assaults included domestic abuse, fights in public and, in one case, an assault on campus police officers. Eight of the assaults took place in and around campus housing buildings.
The campus put a series of security upgrades in place after a 2010 shooting at Langston’s Scholars’ Inn Complex dormitory, in which one man was shot and another was seriously injured after being kicked in the head.
That incident came a year after a shooting in which five people were shot at a university-sanctioned party at Langston’s gymnasium.
After the second shooting, then-President JoAnn Haysbert said violence on campus came not from Langston students but from those students’ friends and relatives who came to visit.
However, incident reports for nine of the 13 aggravated assaults in 2011 show on-campus addresses for suspects.
Sex crime reports rise sharply at OU, OSU
At Oklahoma’s two largest universities, reports of forcible sex offenses increased significantly in 2011, crime data shows.
The University of Oklahoma saw the steepest increase, with 16 “forcible sex offenses” reported in 2011 — four times the number from the previous year.
Oklahoma State University, which had 14 forcible sex offenses reported in 2011, posted its highest total in at least the last decade.
Records show both schools have 31 reported forcible sex offenses since 2007.
At OU, the 16 reports were more than the four previous years combined.
The term “forcible sex offense” is used to describe sexual encounters where one or more of the participants is an unwilling participant, according to crime data published on the universities’ websites.
Nonforcible sex offenses are crimes such as statutory rape and incest, where the participants are willing, but the relationship itself is illegal.
Police reports and information provided by OU and OSU give few details about the alleged sex offenses, but they do reveal some trends.
At OSU, for instance, all five reported forcible sex offenses in 2011 — at least those reported on campus — included the notation “assailant known by victim.”
One case, described as a sexual assault, is still open and active, OSU police Lt. Mark Shearer said.
All of the reports at OSU list a dorm or apartment building as the location of the sexual assaults.
In the other four cases, which are either closed or inactive, the victim signed a waiver declining to prosecute their alleged attacker or refused to reveal the name to police.
Shearer said the “unfortunate” trend is ongoing in Stillwater.
“It’s typically a person the victim is associated with,” Shearer said. “It’s pretty common, unfortunately.”
At OU, the reports provided by police are more random in nature.
For instance, two of the reports provided by OU police are for alleged assaults that took place years before.
One incident, reported July 5, 2011, alleges a sexual assault on the third floor of the Walker Center back in “March of 1990.” The report does not say whether the reporting party is a man or woman and provides few other details.
Another sexual assault, reported in March 2011, allegedly was carried out Nov. 25, 2007, in the parking lot of the Traditions West apartment complex.
The report states that the victim was a woman and that drugs and alcohol were involved in the hourlong assault. No other details are provided in the report.
Lt. Bruce Chan, a spokesman for the OU Police Department, said some people find it therapeutic to report a sexual assault, even if the statute of limitations has long run out.
“It may be part of their healing process to make that report,” Chan said. “To get some kind of closure.”
Other reports from OU include one from a woman who claims she was groped at the university’s football stadium. The report indicates the assault took place on the same day OU played a home game against Tulsa University.
Another report reveals that a student anonymously reported an “alleged sexual assault” on a course evaluation form. The course was described as being a part of the “Precollegiate Programs.”
Two students reported being sexually assaulted at residential areas on campus, including an incident on the sixth floor of Couch Tower in November 2011.
No explanation for increase
As for what happened in 2011 to account for the spike in reported sex crimes at OU and OSU, there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer.
OSU’s Shearer said one possible explanation for the increase could have little to do with what’s going on inside dorm rooms and apartment buildings.
“The campus is growing, No. 1, and it’s taking in more area,” Shearer said. “If it occurs within the city of Stillwater jurisdiction … if it is within a certain distance of our university … we have to also show those.”
Indeed, an examination of OSU’s crime statistics, which are required under the federal Clery Act, shows that nine of the 14 reports of sex offense were reported to either university officials or other law enforcement agencies.
Shearer also said police are actively educating young people about reporting sexual assaults, if they do occur. He said the U.S. Department of Education is now requiring universities to do so.
“So, when you’re actually going into a classroom environment and talking about sexual assaults and stuff like that … it puts it in the forefront of everybody’s mind,” Shearer said. “Whenever you do that, you’re going to get an increased number of reports.”
Chan said the same thing about OU’s efforts to raise awareness about reporting sex crimes, saying years of work may be yielding higher numbers of reported sex crimes.
“We’re trying to educate our community to report when this sort of event happens,” he said. “That is probably taking effect now.”
And while Shearer said university officials are very careful when discussing reports of sexual assaults, he said it’s always better for people to let police know.
“OSU has never tried to hide their statistics … they are what they are,” he said.
“If they don’t report those incidents, that circle of violence is going to continue.
“If they make that report, we can possibly stop that from occurring to somebody else further down the road.”