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A year after a shooting death near campus, do students feel safer?

Students express lingering concerns, acknowledge improvements about public safety on campus.

On March 1, 2023, students from the AUC gathered to attend a candlelight vigil to celebrate and remember the life of Jatonne Sterling. | Clark Atlanta University

Clark Atlanta University has six main communications officers available 24 hours a day, a patrol unit with foot, vehicle and bike patrols also operating 24 hours per day, an investigations unit, and records and training units. Yet, a few memorable events around campus—including the shooting death of student-athlete Jatonne Sterling, 20, last Spring—have led students to question the capacity of the school’s Department of Public Safety.

 

Chief Debra Williams is pretty well-known around campus. With 39 years in law enforcement, she serves as the Chief of Police, Associate Vice President, and the Director of Emergency Management for CAU. Even with all this, at the start of the year, some students questioned whether the rest of her team was as dedicated to the students as she is.


“Not everyone was as committed as the chief, it seemed,” sophomore Chavez Kennedy said. “Improvements I thought needed to be made were that officers needed to take heed of students and what they tell them. Especially if they need help. Also making sure cars are not robbed and more,” Kennedy added.


Several students felt like Public Safety wasn’t as aware as they should be. “Public Safety was not great,” sophomore Cerayah Knight said. “I remember going to Public Safety for specific resources about the school, like, asking where specific buildings were, and they couldn’t even answer that.”

 

Now, because of all the feedback that Public Safety has received, students are noticing the differences around campus, especially if they have been on campus for more than a year. More safety booths, officers patrolling day and night, and more communication have been implemented.

 

“I know, for example, in Heritage, a cop car sits in our pecking deck so that’s very good. Officers seem more concerned for students’ safety than they did last year,” Kennedy said.

 

“I definitely think there have been improvements with Public Safety because now there are people actually sitting in the booths all day and I noticed that they’ve put security booths in place where there didn’t used to be one. I’m glad that’s finally implemented,” Knight said.

 

With these improvements, some students have changed their point of view, and others haven’t.

 

“At first, I didn’t feel safe on campus,” said senior Christopher Gaston. “But as time has progressed, this campus has allowed me to see that safety comes with prioritizing your responsibilities and following the path that keeps you from making mistakes.”


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