Zach Almond, Staff Writer
Increased police presence and Campus Safety have students concerned at Wingate University. During the first few weeks of class, an increase in law enforcement on campus did not go unnoticed. On a recent weekend night, police were seen standing outside students’ apartments in the Watson Village and what students refer to as “Beam Quad” and throughout other areas of campus that students do not typically see them as prevalent.
“As our University continues to grow, so do the demands placed on Campus Safety. We have added additional campus safety officers to work during peak hours of our call volume. We continue to work closely with the Office of Residence Life and the Wingate Police Department in an effort to better serve our campus community,” said Chief of Campus Safety, Michael Easley.
This year Wingate University admitted its largest freshman class ever, and heightened security through Campus Safety has not necessarily upset students, yet the presence of Wingate police officers has.
Austin Care, a senior criminal justice major, said, “I couldn’t help but notice the increase of police presence on campus coming into my last two semesters. While the university and local police department may have good intentions behind their heightened security levels, I can’t help but argue that this is a terrible idea”.
Care goes on to describe the rumors of a “drunk tank” that have been circulating around campus. In a past weekend, a line of more than 20 students was paraded across campus, something Easley disputes.
Care said, “Wingate PD is notorious on campus for imposing intimidation through threats of false charges, talking down to students and targeting certain individuals. This kind of behavior is completely unnecessary seeing as how a college campus is supposed to be a safe haven for the students attending that school,”
He said, “Underage drinking on campus isn’t something the police should be involved in; it should be the job of campus safety to handle that situation seeing as how the individuals are on campus rather than out in the community,” Care said.
In regards to the sightings of police leading 15 to 20 students onto campus safety buses, Care believes this is a way for the police to intimidate students in attempts to keep drinking and partying at a minimum during the coming semester.
Easley disputed the claims of the use of the van for detaining students by explaining that the use of the Campus Safety Van was due to mechanical problems with the usual Campus Safety vehicle.
In regards to parading students across campus, Easley said the purpose was to “assist students in transportation to and from the main campus to Campus Lake to attend the concert on Saturday.”
The reason for the increased presence of Campus Safety and law enforcement on campus was due to the concert on Saturday night as well as other events during welcome week. Chief of Wingate Police Donnie Gaye explained that things were “hectic” at the beginning of the year so Wingate University brought in extra enforcement to partner with Campus Safety.
Threats of false charges looming over students have been frequent on this campus for quite some time, Care said., He . said that encounters his friends had with Wingate PD during his junior year did nothing but “sour the relationship” between law enforcement and students. Care says that officers spoke to students in a condescending manner as well as used threats of false charges meant to intimidate.
Easley said he has a good working relationship where he meets weekly with the Wingate Police Chief in coordination with residence life as well. “Safety is our priority for all of our campus community,” said Easley. There is daily communication between Easley and Gaye; as well as a weekly meeting between Wingate Police Department, Campus Safety, and the Office of Residence Life discussing issues involving the safety of Wingate’s campus and community.
But Care says negative interactions will “create animosity between officers and students resulting in more problems for their department.” He suggests the transition to a dry campus as a solution if the University and Wingate PD view drinking on campus as a problem.
Both law enforcement officers interviewed for the story say they’re produc of the relationships that the university has with emergency services. Gaye adds that he wants the Wingate Police Department to “be accessible on campus.”
Wingate University’s Campus Safety encourages and supports all members of the Wingate’s community to decrease the opportunities for crime and facilitate the maximum use of its resources, Easley said. .