Within the past couple of decades, the New Mexico State campus community was rocked by at least two high-profile crime cases involving NMSU students.
The 1998 abduction, rape and murder of 18-year-old student Carly Martinez made national headlines. The 2003 rape and murder of 22-year-old Katie Sepich, which was profiled on numerous national TV newscasts and other television programs, ultimately led Congress to pass “Katie’s Law,” an expansion of DNA collection and reporting requirements.
It’s been years since any high-profile crimes like these have struck NMSU students, but is the campus and surrounding community really that much safer? Moreover, how has security and safety at NMSU evolved in this current age of social media and mass shootings?
According to the latest campus crime statistics made available by the New Mexico State University police department, the number of crimes at NMSU reported annually between 2010 and 2016 ranged from 1,760 to 2,036. Violent crime during this period peaked in 2012 with 83 violent crimes reported.
The previous reporting term was a ten-year period from 2000 to 2009. The number of crimes reported during this period ranged from 1,230 to 1,700. Violent crime during this earlier period was at its highest in 2006 with 64 crimes reported.
While these data might suggest criminal activity in and around campus is gradually increasing over time, crime reporting data collected between 1989 and 1999 actually show a higher annual number of crimes reported during this earlier period than in more recent years.
According to NMSU campus police data, the number of crimes reported between 1989 and 1999 ranged from 1,430 to 1,819. Violent crime during this period peaked in 1998 with 77 violent crimes reported.
More recently, the 2019 annual campus security report, which provides crime statistics for the years 2016–2019, shows a steady decline in burglary, motor vehicle theft, aggravated assault and robbery on campus over the past three years. However, 12 rapes were reported in 2018, which reflects a 300% increase over the previous year’s total of three rapes reported, and a 50% uptick from 2016, in which eight rapes were reported. Reports of liquor law and drug abuse violations also increased dramatically in 2018 over the previous two years.
Another type of criminal misconduct that appears to be on the rise is stalking. Reports of stalking increased dramatically from three incidents reported in 2016 to 17 in 2017 and 20 in 2018. Stalking, often an underreported crime, can involve a spectrum of threatening behaviors through personal interactions, text messages, social media contact, and other technologies.
The Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime states that people associated with colleges and universities are more likely to be stalked than those outside academia. According to Kathleen Washburn, author of Addressing Stalking on Campus, there are a few precautions to take if you are experiencing stalking on or off campus.
- Be aware of potential dangers. Stick to campus routes that are popular and safe. Use campus security to escort you to and from class, especially in the evening. Keep a cell phone with you and check in with a friend when you leave campus and arrive home.
- Document each incident and form of contact. Make it clear to the person that he or she is not to contact you under any circumstances and keep track of any subsequent communications and also any communications with police, campus security and university administration.
- Notify the dean of students. The dean of students oversees a range of student issues, including forms of disruptive or threatening behavior. Everyone on campus is subject to the university’s code of conduct, including employees, former students and guests.
- Consult campus and local police. They can run a background check on the stalker, help devise a safety plan, and even patrol your neighborhood for suspicious persons. Bring copies of all the materials you have collected when filing a police report.
- Consider legal action. Another option is a cease-and-desist letter from a lawyer. In some cases, such formal or official contact through an intermediary may deescalate the situation. Recognize, however, that while an order of protection is useful for law enforcement, it cannot ensure your personal safety. In fact, in many cases, the threat of violence is highest after a victim files for legal protection.
- Cultivate a support network. Talk to friends, family members, neighbors, and perhaps a mental health professional to make your case known and to help cope with the daily stress and long-term challenges.
- Educate the campus community. For more information about current legislation, victim services and legal rights, visit the Stalking Resource Center through the National Center for the Victims of Crime. The website includes specific information about stalking on campus, training materials, and anti-stalking laws by state, including tribal codes and stalking offenses as defined by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Moving out of your home and/or leaving your job is an extreme measure, but one that may be necessary for your safety or peace of mind. In the face of escalating threats or violent behavior, all options need to be on the table.
These days, campus safety is perhaps more often associated with mass shooting response preparedness, although stalking awareness, sexual assault prevention and everything in-between are still very much a part of campus safety training and awareness efforts. Active shooter training is currently put on by the NMSU campus police department. NMSU police Chief Stephen Lopez indicated active shooter training on campus is always evolving.
“We have changed the program we offer many times over the past 14 years to ensure we are staying current with what is happening in the world. When we first started, many places were using Quick Flip Guides. We now specifically recommend against that overly-simplistic approach, and instead advocate Keep It Simple Under Stress,” Lopez said. The acronym for this newer approach is K.I.S.U.S.
Chief Lopez listed — in order of preference — how people should respond if they happen to face an active shooter on campus. The recommended response actions are as follows:
There are actually many programs offered by the university that provide education, prevention efforts and resources for survivors of crime. Information about some of these resources is provided on the NMSU Police Department website.