Imagine being a parent and receiving a gut-wrenching phone call that your child has been put in harm’s way.
Sadly, the tragic scenario of this phone call has become reality for many students’ parents. With college town violence increasing, demonstrated by the recent shooting at U.Va. and the brutal murders in Idaho, it’s crucial for police officials in college towns to devise plans to ensure students’ safety.
Harrisonburg has a crime index of 23, indicating that it’s safer than only 23% of other U.S. cities. While it was demonstrated by a study done by the U.S. Department of Justice that college campuses typically have a lower crime rate than the surrounding cities, it’s crucial that the city officials clarify safety tactics and resolutions. With Harrisonburg having a higher crime rate, proper communication with the student body should be required.
College towns are easy targets due to the typically larger young adult population. These concentrated areas give criminals a vast opportunity and better chances of remaining uncaught according to an article by Edward Glaeser in the "Journal of Political Economy."
Along with the larger populations, this generation of college students is very active on social media. According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of the population from ages 18-29 use picture sharing platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. While these platforms are great for genuine communication and connections, stalkers take advantage of them to gain access to new targets as it allows an exceptional amount of personal information to be navigated.
Since JMU was first established, it’s grown extensively in size, with 20,346 undergraduate students enrolled as of the fall 2022 semester. With this high-density population, it’s inevitable for crime to occur. The issue comes when the crime occurs and there’s a lack of communication from police officials to the student body.
Back in September, rumors about suspicious activity on and around JMU’s campus circulated on social media platforms. Some of this was misinformation, according to a Sept. 21 email from JMU's Police Department (JMU PD) to the student body, and some of these concerns were heightened due to social media.
"Please be cautious of the source of information concerning the JMU community," the email stated "If the news did not come from a valid news source, avoid reposting on social media sites. "
Even so, much of the student body felt threatened, and the email from JMU PD felt more blameful of the students spreading rumors on social media than it was explaining the situation and strategies to make sure every student understood the circumstance and felt safe.
Communication is key in these situations. JMU senior Hannah Trebour shared a positive experience — after experiencing a startling stalking incident, she felt comforted as Harrisonburg Police Department (HPD) officers kept them notified of the updates.
“We had spotted an individual looking into our neighbor's window with a flashlight,” Trebour said. “We called the police, as he came back two nights later, and he was arrested and given a warning to not come back. The officer in charge was very nice and considerate of us, asking several questions which led to him identifying his car.”
This sort of directive is what every officer needs. It’s easy to become paranoid, especially as recent shootings and other crimes circulate through the news. Whether there are threats on campus or there’s just a scare, both JMU PD and HPD should to improve their communication with for young adults around the city.
“I think it’s important the police forces are open with the student body,” Trebour said. “Especially since we are such a large part of the community.”
Contact Oriana Lukas at email@example.com. For more editorials regarding the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the opinion desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Opinion.