Students want response from law enforcement

Lefton: Don’t overreact, don’t be fearful

Some students are saying city and university police aren’t doing enough to keep students safe.

John Hovey, who lives on campus, said there’s a gap in security and the attack and death of Christopher Kernich, who died Saturday, illustrated that gap.

“The murder that took place last week happened on Main street – the busiest street in the city,” said Hovey, sophomore political science major. “When your biggest area of town isn’t even covered by police, that’s the problem.”

Nick Sinatra, a sophomore fashion design major who lives off campus, said he hopes police – both from the city and university – respond assertively.

“If they think it’s necessary to increase (police and campus security), I would hope they would,” he said.

Officers for the city of Kent and the Kent State Police Department could not be reached, and some declined to comment.

Kent State President Lester Lefton said university police are doing what they can.

“Clearly all of our officers are on alert,” he said.

KentNewsNet asked its followers on Twitter whether they felt safe on campus. Several said they felt uneasy: “The thought of all the robberies/assaults has me a bit paranoid,” “I’m an alum who came into town for the weekend. Scary/nervewracking/sad to find my alma mater such an unsafe place to be” and “I’m definitely more cautious walking home from the bar. We need more patrol cars.”

But there’s only so much Lefton and the university can do.

“I can triple the size of the police department, and it wouldn’t make any difference off-campus because they have no jurisdiction off-campus,” Lefton said. “And two of the three incidents in the last 10 days have happened off campus.”

Not only that, but he says the city police have not been in communication with him or the university police, though communication has not been a problem in the past.

“We don’t know what they know. That’s part of the problem,” Lefton said, admitting it could be that there’s simply nothing to communicate. “I’m not suggesting releasing this (information) to the Daily Kent Stater or a Twitter site; I’m talking about I need to know because it helps me make informed decisions as president of Kent State.

“So we’re going to work to ensure that we get the most effective communication possible and have all the facts so that we don’t under react or overreact.”

Lefton said he’s meeting with his cabinet and then with Kent State Police Chief John Peach this morning to talk about campus safety and ways to work better with the Kent Police Department.

Other students said there is still more to be done to protect themselves against dangerous people.

Christian O’Keeffe, freshman English major and a Kent native, said the most effective solution would be if everyone carried a weapon, such as switch blades, everywhere they went so they can protect themselves against potentially violent people.

“If people are scared to be on campus, I feel kind of bad for them,” O’Keeffe said. “If you get to New York City, then what are you going to do?”

Students agreed the Kent State campus is vulnerable to criminals outside the area.

Students like Eric Schneider, a sophomore exploratory major who lives off campus, and Sarah Miller, a sophomore recreation and park tourism managing major, admit to carrying legal switchblades as protection when walking alone at night.

“It could happen to anybody,” Miller said. “Everyone thinks ‘It can’t happen to me,’ but it always could, really.”

Both students also said they use other strategies to protect themselves, such as talking on a cell phone with no one at the other end to make it seem they’re not alone and keeping an ear open when listening to head phones to hear cars or footsteps coming.

Other students, such as sophomore sociology major Ana Belen Villalonos said she avoids some places, such as Franklin Hall, altogether at night because the walk isn’t safe enough.

“Safety’s our number one priority for our students – it always is and always will be,” Lefton said. “At three in the morning when people are out and about, it’s very hard to keep everybody safe. You can’t have a police officer every 75 feet.”

He recommends walking in packs and not traveling drunk if you’re out late.

“I think people need to stay calm and not overreact and not be overly fearful,” Lefton said.

Contact news correspondent Simon Husted at [email protected]

Contact news team leader Ben Wolford at [email protected]