Savannah State University officials speak publicly; students want more

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah State University President Cheryl Dozier discussed campus safety measures at a news conference Tuesday following Saturday's fatal shooting at a campus housing complex.

The news conference was the first time university officials had spoken publicly since 20-year-old Kaleel Clarke was killed in a shooting at University Commons.

"I want our students to know that we are working collectively to ensure their safety as they are students on our campus," Dozier said.

Dozier spoke at length about security measures implemented in the last two years, like license plate readers, security cameras and police body cameras, since Savannah State University Police Department Chief James Barnwell took over the department.

"Our request of Cheif Barnwell was to improve the safety and the security of our campus," Dozier said.

Some students say those changes haven't been enough to change their perception of their safety on campus.

"Do you feel safe on campus," WTOC asked student Xavier McKnight.

"No, honestly, I don't," the senior, who says he avoids walking alone on campus at night, replied.

Dozier said the license plate readers and security cameras were used to help police identify a suspect, 20-year-old Phillip Burke, and arrest him with 12 hours of the shooting.

Burke appeared in court on Feb. 26 for felony charges. Judge Harris Odell did not grant him bond and he is still in jail.

"We are taking this situation very serious, and we continue to look for opportunities to improve our campus safety as we move forward," Dozier said. "Our students, faculty, staff and campus visitors are of our utmost importance as we provide a safe and secure campus."

The university is implementing temporary safety measures, like a curfew, additional patrol officers from other campus police departments and university ID checks at entrances, following the shooting. Dozier said these increased security measures will be in place as long as the police chief feels they are necessary.

McKnight said while he's happy the university is increasing security, he wants the changes to be permanent.

"If these measures prove to be effective, they need to be in place from here on out," he said. "Period. This is the third shooting and the second murder that has happened on this campus since I've been a student here, so it's pretty alarming."

Along with better safety measures, SSU junior Ashia Manning said she wants better communication with university leadership when something like Saturday's shooting happens.

"A lot of the students are angry with administration for the way that they handle things as far as addressing students when incidents like this happen," Manning said. "Just being available to speak with them and to voice our concerns and to get information when we need it."

McKnight says students need to see concrete changes implemented to believe the university is making their safety a priority.

"Yes, Dr. Dozier can go on camera and say that as much as she wants to, but until the actions actually take place, no one's going to believe it," he said.

Manning says she would like to see more patrols on campus, even officers stationed at campus housing around the clock. She understands there are staffing and pay considerations with that, but with many of these violent crimes happening at residence halls, she'd like constant patrolling.

You can watch Tuesday's full news conference below:

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