1-11-2017 Squad Cars

A squad car rests in the LSUPD station parking lot on Wednesday, January 11, 2016.

Peyton Jeffcoat was walking near the LSU Quadrangle with her headphones in on the way to her 6 p.m. night class when she was suddenly approached from behind by a stranger.

The stranger was walking close to her and repeatedly asked for her number. When Jeffcoat pretended she could not hear him and began walking faster, the man physically removed one of the headphones from her ear.

Jeffcoat, an elementary education junior, is one of several University students who has experienced a suspicious incident on campus over the past week. These incidents have elicited growing concerns among students regarding campus safety.

Accounts of other incidents have been circulating on social media, even making their way to various parts of the state. But not all incidents described on social media have been reported to LSUPD. 

“While several unsubstantiated stories appeared on social media, we can share that there has been no escalation in criminal activity on campus,” LSU Media Relations Director Ernie Ballard said. 

Jeffcoat said she was able to remove herself from the situation by firmly placing the headphones back in her ear, telling the man she had to go to class and quickly walking away. She was hesitant to report the incident, but ultimately decided she would because of other recent incidents involving a woman robbed at gunpoint on Jan. 28, and social media posts alleging another women was grabbed near Middleton Library on Jan. 27, she said. 

LSUPD immediately dispatched an officer to Jeffcoat’s classroom to ensure she was safe and to obtain a statement, according to a police report from Ballard. Additionally, Jeffcoat said LSUPD obtained a DNA sample from the places the man touched her in order to connect him to other crimes.

Ballard confirmed the man involved in the incident was Darrian Jones, 24, who was arrested by LSUPD and booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Jan. 30 on one count of armed robbery and two counts of simple battery. Jones is not a University student. 

Jeffcoat said the officer waited until her three-hour night class was finished to give her a ride to her apartment and walk her to the door.

“LSUPD acted in a very professional and efficient way, and lived up to every standard that I hold a police department to,” Jeffcoat said.

Another University student, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was in the Tureaud Hall women’s bathroom when she experienced a suspicious incident involving a person hiding in a stall and dressed in black. LSUPD dispatched an officer to Tureaud on Jan. 30 in reference to a suspicious person, according to a police report. Officers patrolled the area, and found no signs of suspicious activity or persons.

“They responded extremely fast,” the University student said. “Within three minutes of replying, I heard ruckus outside of my classroom and noticed they were looking for me.” 

The University student said there were six officers who came to see if she was ok, to see if she needed anything and to take her statement.

“I do feel like we could use more officers around certain places, but I know it’s hard to be in every place at once,” the University student said. “LSU’s a well-known school, and, although it’s hard to cover all grounds, I feel like a large effort could be made.” 

The University is initiating new tactics that support the ongoing safety measures, according to Ballard. Heightened security includes deploying additional officers in pedestrian areas to accommodate afternoon and evening class schedules, as well as increased police visibility on campus. LSUPD will include the display of solid blue lights and other deterrents as needed, Ballard said.

Although the man in the bathroom has not been apprehended, the University student said she is still in contact with a member of LSUPD who is working on her report.

Jeffcoat used LSU’s Shield app to report the incident. The app has a panic mode and a feature where individuals can report incidents anonymously. Ballard strongly encourages all students to download the Shield app and to immediately report if they see anything suspicious.

But while some students who have made reports to LSUPD have been generally pleased with the quick response times, other students have been unable to report their incidents due to Shield app malfunctions.  

Finance and administration junior Payton Vicknair said she was disappointed when she tried to download the Shield app and experienced problems with the app crashing after she attempted to add contacts to notify if she was ever unsafe.

“I just keep pepper spray on my keys and on my bookbag and hold it in my hand ready to go whenever I’m alone walking anywhere,” Vicknair said.

Vicknair said she attempted to download the app again when it updated recently, but she and her co-worker still experienced issues with it crashing.

Nutrition freshman Kate Bui was walking in the parking lot near Patrick F. Taylor Hall on Jan. 30 when she experienced an incident that she later had problems reporting through the Shield app.

Bui said she was chased by a man in a large hoodie in the parking lot and heard him pull out a switchblade, although she did not turn around to see the knife. The man reportedly said to her, “Hey girl, what you doin’?”

Bui said she picked up her pace and began walking in between cars, but the man continued following close behind her.

Bui reported the incident on the Shield app immediately when she got back to her apartment. She said she did not receive follow-up on the incident from LSUPD. 

Ballard said students should contact LSUPD if there are problems with the app so it can be reviewed and remedied.

Bui expressed concern that LSUPD’s slow investigation was making others doubt her experience.

“Some people don’t believe my story,” Bui said. “But I know what happened to me. I’m sure, 100 percent, that he was following me. He was so close to me, and the click of the knife was so scary.” 

Some University students are trying to come up with their own solutions to feel safer.

Graduate student Sabrina Lessner started a Facebook group for LSU students to share safety updates. Lessner created the Facebook group because the LSU Safety GroupMe had a maximum of 500 people. Currently, there are multiple popular safety GroupMe’s that have been created for University students that have already reached capacity.

Lessner made the Facebook group exclusively for LSU students, and membership has reached around 100 members.

A GroupMe called LSU Updates currently has around 497 members, while another GroupMe, LSU Safety Group, has around 458 members.

Vicknair said her uncle is an employee at the University, and she asked his police friends for suggestions on keeping herself safe. They instructed her not to put herself in situations where she is alone and vulnerable.

“I have to walk to my car alone in the parking lot after school at 3:30 every day,” Vicknair said. “It’s broad daylight, so I don’t know what position I’m putting myself into when it’s just a school parking lot, but kidnappers turn it into something worse.” 

Jeffcoat suggested the higher-ups at the University should be directing more tuition money toward crime prevention.

“We don’t have security cameras everywhere on campus, but thank the Lord we have a lazy river in the shape of LSU,” Jeffcoat said.

Ballard said the University has begun adding lights along the main pedestrian corridors in lots near South Quad Drive and Patrick F. Taylor Hall, and are working to improve lighting for pathways leading up to and from Middleton Library. 

Bui said her incident, combined with another incident she experienced earlier this year, has prompted both her parents to question her safety at the University. Bui is an international student from Moscow, Russia, who has been living in the U.S. for only five months.

“I don’t feel safe here,” Bui said. “My parents just want to move me to another country at this point.” 

Bui is planning on finishing the semester, but is looking into other universities to transfer to next year.

“I think the University doesn’t investigate in public because they don’t want people to freak out, but still, we need updates,” Bui said. “We need to know what is going on around campus.”

But Ballard said the situation has been “fueled by unsettling rumors,” which makes it more difficult to distinguish what’s really happening.

“LSU will alert the campus community to real, credible risks as they are reported to LSUPD,” Ballard said. “That is why we ask that people always call LSUPD directly and immediately if they see anything that strikes them as suspicious. Remember, if you see something, say something.” 

Despite Jeffcoat’s incident, she said she still believes LSUPD is doing the best they can under the circumstances.

“LSUPD can only work with the resources and funds that are provided to them,” Jeffcoat said. “If the girls are not reporting anything to the LSUPD or even to the Baton Rouge Police Department, how does anyone honestly expect anything to be solved?” 

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