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Mills community partners on campus to support safe environment

Photo by Jessica Gillespie

For 2017, the City of Oakland recorded some of the highest rates of overall crime in California.

Crime analysis from the Oakland Police Department (OPD) determined a rate of 73.3 crimes per thousand peoples. The number for San Francisco, listed second, is 69.2.

Encompassed within Oakland’s city boundaries, the Mills College student body, staff and faculty partner with each other and the local community to prioritize safety and limit crime on campus.

“We want to ensure we’re doing everything we can to be a safer campus, but I don’t think we’re a campus that wants to shut ourself down from the Oakland community and from the world,” said Dr. Chicora Martin, Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students at Mills College. “So, I think that intentionality and that care is actually a key part of how we balance … keeping an open, welcoming campus but also acknowledging that not everyone comes on campus with good intentions.”

Martin explained intentionality to mean that “we’re willing to name and sometimes have the hard conversations … [and] that’s going to be really important for the world.”

Mills provides a range of resources meant to promote campus safety and security, such as an around-the-clock Department of Public Safety (DPS) and awareness programs.

“The purpose of Public Safety is to provide a safe and inclusive environment on the Mills College Campus,” Director of Public Safety Tyman Small said. “It’s to create a collaborative partnership with students, staff and faculty to ensure the safety and the safe usage of the Mills College campus and facilities.”

When DPS is fully staffed onsite there is a sergeant and three public safety officers on duty. One officer is located at the gate house, monitoring traffic directly in front of the Mills’ entrance, and two officers are in the field patrolling the campus, securing campus buildings, and escorting people after dark. All officers can respond to emergencies.

Every public safety officer on the Mills campus is non-sworn, meaning that they have not taken a police oath and, therefore, do not have the power to arrest. The objective of a non-sworn officer is to observe and report. Public safety officers can make a citizen’s arrest if a felony is being committed, effectuating an arrest by sworn officers based on the evidence available.

“It’s best to give us a call [at (510) 430-5555],” said Small. “I can’t say definitely call. It’s just going to depend on what’s going on and how quickly you need to get to someone. If it’s feasible for you not to call, just go straight there to the gate house or if you see them driving in a cart to flag them down.”

The person reporting should be present to give their name, the location, nature of the incident, and whether anyone else or property is involved. If reporting an incident by phone, do not hang up the phone until requested to do so by the public safety officer.

Crimes committed outside the walls surrounding Mills are under the jurisdiction of OPD and if this occurs, students should dial 911. Please see our article on how to report sexual harassment at Mills for more information about that situation. The public safety officer located at the gate house can help facilitate and call OPD, but the affected party needs to remain there. It is OPD’s policy that the responding police officers need the actual party that the crime was committed against to be there when they arrive for a statement.

Small became the Director of Public Safety at Mills College in Dec. 2017, bringing a background in law enforcement with him. Prior to his current role, Small served as an Oakland Police Officer for eleven years.

“I’d even drive by in a patrol car, and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s Mills.’ It’s almost like one of those sacred places you don’t go in,” said Small. “Coming from the outside in, I was like ‘wow’ reading about Mills, and seeing the annual safety report I was like ‘wow’ crime is definitely low here.”

Mills reported 19 campus incidents related to safety in 2017. Out of 2,795 colleges and universities that also report crime and safety data, the online resource College Factual found that 51.8 percent reported less than Mills. This is about 13.6 reports per thousand students, based on a student body of 1,397.

It’s hard to determine if crime reported on the Mills campus is low, average, or high in relation to other colleges. Small explained that this is because student body size and the number of public safety officers employed per department vary across the board. There is also a difference in arrest power, sworn versus non-sworn officers, which is determined by college or university leadership from campus to campus.

For comparison, Scripps College is another private liberal arts women’s college located south of Mills in Claremont, California. It is part of the Claremont College consortium consisting of four other colleges that are co-ed. Scripps reported 71 safety-related incidents on their campus, which is 273.7 percent more than Mills. College Factual calculated that 68.4 percent of colleges and universities reporting had less than Scripps, 16.6 percentage points higher than Mills. This is about 71.8 reports per thousand students, based on a student body of 989.

No campus can be fully insular from crime. Even in areas reporting low crime statistics, unsafe situations and the risk of violence are still there.

“From my law enforcement experience, I can say that most … assaults in general, they’re usually crimes of opportunity,” said Small. “The best thing I can say from a public safety stand point is just always be aware of your surroundings and your company. … It’s hard to go hey if you do A, B, C, and D then this won’t happen. It’s just that you have to be vigilant about your surroundings and who you’re with.”

DPS encourages the Mills community to immediately report any suspicious persons or activities. This and other personal safety precautions, including emergency response procedures, are available on the Safety and Transportation website and as handouts in CPM Room 113.

“What I want our students to do is to have behaviors that automatically increase their safety: locking their door when they leave their residence hall room, … being aware of their surroundings, understanding the resources we have at night,” said Martin. “I want those things to be just second hand. … They’re ingrained.”

Martin explained that a number of safety related initiatives—emergency planning, fire safety, personal safety, etc.—are held on campus the first six weeks of the fall semester. Before the spring semester, students will receive guidance on how to best safeguard their items while on winter break. Safety related events and initiatives are communicated through multiple channels, such as e-mails, information-on-the forum, resident assistants, and resident halls’ meetings.

The Cowell Building on the Mills campus is open to students and their questions. Cowell also provides Health and Counseling and Student Access and Support Services.

DPS security officers are on campus 24/7 and can be called at (510) 430-5555. Officers are located at the gate house and patrolling the campus.

“Mills is a great, great college campus. It’s a very vibrant community. To maintain the integrity and the peacefulness of the campus is just always incumbent on us being proactive and us holding each other accountable for unsafe practices,” said Small. “I advise students to continue … to support the vision and the mission of the college campus.”