SAFETY IN NUMBERS: Report states crime declined at Ferris State from 2016 to ’17

A Ferris State University Police car is pictured last week. The school recently released its annual crime report for 2017. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

BIG RAPIDS — Criminal complaints at Ferris State University declined by about 25 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the university’s annual crime report, which was released Sept. 20.

The total number of crimes at Ferris State dropped from 481 in 2016 to 363 in 2017, the report states. However, Public Safety Director Bruce Borkovich cautioned, it would be wise for readers not to look too deeply into the numbers — whether they reflect positively on the school, or negatively.

“We don’t get too excited, because there are many dynamics that play into it. Generally, it’s a very safe campus, and small increases or decreases in crime as a total are reflected in huge percentages that can easily lead to overreactions,” Borkovich said.

Borkovich said one of the factors that could play into a decrease is the number of officers on staff. Currently, including administration, there are 13 officers on the FSU staff — a figure that is considered full staff, Borkovich said, based on the department’s budget.

However, for most of the year, he said, the office was understaffed. That means fewer officers were patrolling the campus, writing tickets, making arrests and investigating complaints.

“We have a small department — our night crew is between two to three officers,” Borkovich said. “If we have one officer out, it’s 33 percent less police presence. That’s a lot.”

Another possible factor is the makeup of the staff that is on board, Borkovich said, which could lead to variations in the aggressiveness of which laws are enforced.

“Sometimes you get these younger hires, with all this energy, and they’re out making traffic stops and doing things that a more experienced officer might not do,” Borkovich said. “I don’t have a preference — we don’t have a quota of tickets to write. I just want officers to work hard.”

Specifically, the most-reported crime on campus in 2017 were violations of the Controlled Substances Act. There were 82 such complaints filed in that category, which is down a total of 42 from 2016.

There were 49 complaints related to narcotics equipment reported in 2017, a decline of 25 from 2016. There were 41 larcenies and 36 liquor violations reported in 2017, as well.

On a whole, Borkovich believes Ferris State is a safe place to go to school, citing a 2017 report by the National Council for Home Safety and Security which named it one of the top 25 safest universities in the country, using data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting and the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety Security Survey.

New policy being pursued

In addition to crime statistics, the report — which is required by federal law for every university in the country that receives public funds for student financial aid — details other goings-on in the Ferris State public safety department.

Among the highlights is Borkovich’s pursuit of a university policy detailing police response in the event of a large-scale protest or riot at the school. Inspired by the demonstrations in the college towns of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Berkeley, California, in 2017, Borkovich said the aim of the policy is to protect the safety of students and property, as well as First Amendment protections for everyone involved.

“We do seem to have a trend where people have grown intolerant of others’ opinions … in other words, if you don’t think just like me, it’s OK to be violent and destroy property,” Borkovich said. “When you think about it, the college atmosphere is the marketplace of ideas. The university should be the place that protects those rights more than anyone else”

Among the details of the policy is working with Mecosta County-area police agencies, as well as departments at Central Michigan University and the city of Mount Pleasant, in order to develop mutual aid agreements to ensure Ferris State police are not overwhelmed during a large-scale event.

“We may only have 13 officers on staff, but I can literally have hundreds of officers here to help keep our events safe if I need to,” Borkovich said. “We are trained, equipped and we have the legal agreements to do that.”

Ferris State police also have recently upgraded equipment in order to be ready for major demonstrations, Borkovich said, including the purchase of new riot gear.

A draft copy of the policy is complete, Borkovich added, and he expects it be approved by the Ferris State president’s council by the end of the academic year.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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