Books, Bullets and Guns

TSU was failing in campus safety long before Ashley Sloan was gunned down

They were headed back through the complex's parking lot when the man they'd been seeking suddenly emerged from the building and the argument began. As Sloan and her friends looked on, Morris allegedly pulled his pistol and started firing wildly, hitting Sloan with one of the shots.

About a week later, Morris cried like a baby when he was arrested at a friend's house. He expressed great remorse but did not make a confession, officers say. He remains in jail.

The killing triggered a major upgrade in security on the 150-acre campus and at the student housing units, which are now staffed with officers around the clock.

Ashley Sloan's mother talked her out of military 
service, fearing it would be too dangerous.
Daniel Kramer
Ashley Sloan's mother talked her out of military service, fearing it would be too dangerous.
Chief Young says reported violence has decreased 
steadily in recent years.
Chief Young says reported violence has decreased steadily in recent years.

That has strained an already limited campus police force. Much of the burden has fallen on contract law-enforcement personnel from the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff's Department and the Precinct 7 Constable's Office.

But as TSU police chief James Young knows, the funds for the added police presence won't last forever.

Young, a former NFL pro who could pass for Smokey Bear, took over as chief in 2003. His second-floor office is across the street from Tierwester Oaks.

From that office filled with law-enforcement magazines, football photos and the sounds of radio chatter and dispatch alerts, he oversees a department of 26 sworn peace officers and an annual budget of $1.75 million.

He's optimistic about the future. "The 24-hour security has a tremendous amount of benefits for us," Young says. "It brings back order."

Young has the statistics to show that budget increases for security and added officers have made an impact on the effort to control crime at TSU. In 2002, there were 15 reported crimes of violence, with 13 the following year. That's a two-thirds decrease from 1993, when 39 violent crimes were reported at TSU.

But the 2003 figures -- the latest available from TSU -- remain higher than those at most campuses. And when figured on a per-student basis, the 2003 total is twice as high as that of the University of Houston's central campus, which led the state in the number of reported crimes of violence that year.

However impressive, the TSU statistics don't match those of another law-enforcement agency that receives calls about violent crimes in the TSU area: the Houston Police Department.

A Press analysis of HPD 911 calls indicates that TSU statistics understate violent crimes reported by the university.

The crime statistics supplied to the FBI by police agencies are limited to calls that result in the filing of offense reports. Some calls from TSU-owned apartment complexes would be expected to warrant offense reports but apparently did not. The disparities are reflected in last year's 911 calls; TSU police are typically dispatched and usually are the ones to determine if reports are warranted, according to Young.

On March 4, a female student in the 3500 block of Blodgett complained that she was robbed and carjacked at gunpoint. No report was filed.

On April 19 at the same address, someone complained that five guys assaulted him. No report was filed.

Four days later at TSU's Greystone Apartments, three guys complained that they were robbed at gunpoint. No report was filed.

On April 28, a female said that she was assaulted. On September 5, another female reported being assaulted. And on November 1 and 2, two females reported that they were assaulted in separate incidents. No reports were filed.

"Many police calls do not generate a police report," says a former Houston police chief, Harry Caldwell. "They just want police to show up and make it stop."

But schools are known to intentionally keep their numbers down. "What happens on most campuses is that the administration will bend over backwards to try to keep their stats down because they don't want the taxpayers to know what's happening," Caldwell says. He says that turning a blind eye to drunkenness is one thing; doing it with an assault is another. "The only authority that campus police officers should answer to is the oath of office that he took to enforce the law."

But TSU appears to be sidestepping some laws designed to keep students and the public informed of crimes.

The U.S. Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 requires that colleges and universities provide campus crime statistics and reports to the public.

For example, the Rice University Police Department publicizes its campus crime stats down to the hour on its Web site: theft of bicycle; student reports receiving unwanted mail; resident reports unknown naked subject in his bed. It's all there. A student who wishes to stay informed can easily do so.

But sometimes at TSU it's as if the crime never happened.

The TSU Web page devoted to publicizing statistics -- daily updates or even past figures -- has been blank but for the words "We at Texas Southern University are actively updating and enhancing our website to better serve you. Please check this page again soon, as new information is continually released." The page devoted to publicizing crime alerts reads the same a full three months after Ashley Sloan was killed.

The sharing of information can go a long way. Last October, two months before Sloan was killed, a student living in TSU's Greystone complex contacted a confidential violence hot line called the Marsai Alert. Netty Murray set up the system for kids to report violence on their high school and college campuses because her daughter, Marsai, was killed by a stray bullet to the head, not unlike Ashley Sloan.

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