College-aged women living in the area south of Chico State Campus are under attack. They're being targeted for kidnappings and sexual assaults in the streets near campus. Since the fall of 2011, at least 11 young women, some still teenagers, have been assaulted. Some have been thrown into cars as they walked, then sexually assaulted and dropped off. There could be more cases that have gone unreported, according to Chico police.
Jim Paterson is the father of a Chico State senior. He says he's fed up, and has considered pulling his daughter out of school, and taking her back to Sacramento to finish her last semester.
"Somebody needs to be doing something," says Paterson. "This thing with abducting women, three in a 30 day period and raping them in their cars, I gotta tell you, I'm from a big town, if this were happening there, we'd lock down the town."
His daughter Kelsey lives in the South Campus area with a female roommate. She says their apartment has been broken into twice when they were not home, and she routinely comes home to find the window frames bent and the locks toyed with. They've also found a man peering at them through their window. She says she's worried the crimes will escalate. She says, "For any girl, that's like your worst fear, being abducted from the street or someone breaking into your house while you're home."
Jim decided to take matters into his own hands and find out what the school was doing to protect students who lived off campus. He contacted University President Paul Zingg via email. He received an emailed response from the Vice President of Student Affairs, outlining the school's "Memorendum of Understanding," which included safety measures for students on campus.
According to the Director of Public Affairs at Chico State, the school provides several lessons in safety for students, including during orientation twice a year. The school also runs the Safe Start Program, in which University Police patrol the radius around campus. They also operate the Safe Place Office, where students can discuss specific crimes. And they offer free self-defense classes, and notify students via email about specific crimes.
Chico police issued a press release in September, detailing 10 attacks on female students in the South Campus area. The university sent that information to female students. Kelsey says, "It seems very hush hush. Just for one email to go out on a Friday afternoon, when students stop checking their emails, I feel like there should be more warning."
Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle says he's dealing with a smaller staff than he had four years ago, with 71 officers today as compared to 81 in 2008. He adds that 1/3 of those officers patrol the half-mile radius around campus, while the rest cover 32 square miles of the city. And in light of recent budget cuts, he says can't have an officer on every street corner, which is what he would like to do. He says, "When it comes to staffing, we are a service-oriented station, and it takes money. And when money gets tight, service declines. How are we going to provide an adequate level of service to the community when we have shortfalls?"
Jim says he's frustrated because he can't seem to find anyone to take responsibility for his daughter's safety. Reporter: "You feel like there are predators here, and the school/police department aren't taking it seriously?" Jim: "I know the University isn't, because I got two emails from the Vice President of Student Affairs, who said nothing, just a bunch of stuff, the Chief responded about cuts, 'I can only allocate X number of people here, and he's got a big town to patrol.'"
Chico State President Paul Zingg attended the school's annual Moonlight Walk in September, which highlights safety at night on campus. He says, "Chico State is a relatively safe place. When you look at national crime statistics with respect to campuses, we really are on the low end. It's just that everything here gets a lot of attention. We're the 500 pound gorilla in the middle of the dining room. It's a small community, and our students are naïve victims, and I think that adds to the outrage that we're powerless, and we're not."
October 28, Chico police say in the early morning hours, a 19 year old female was abducted by a man in a vehicle at the corner of West 8th and Orange Streets. She was dropped off, and was not been sexually assaulted. Police provided no other details.
Jim says he keeps waiting for the outrage from school officials. He says, "Kelsey was saying around campus, they're not really talking about it that much, which is bizarre to me. I can't think of one community in this country that it wouldn't be statewide news. I don't understand why it's not a bigger uproar. This town revolves around this University. If they say they need more police, more resources to help out, you would think it would be instantaneous. It hasn't been, and I guess it's because Chico State doesn't take it serious enough, until what, somebody gets murdered?"
Chico police say they are actively investigating these kidnappings and assaults, but won't release more information so as not to risk jeapordizing the case.