The university reported no murders, rapes or robberies on campus last year, and compared to the state's other public universities, Tennessee Tech had the lowest reported incidents of assault per capita, according to the state's 1998 "Crime on Campus" report.
"We are able to keep a safer campus, even with fewer officers per capita than most schools, because we stress common sense," university police director Gay Shepherd said.
The university reported 10 simple or aggravated assaults, averaging 1.07 incidents per 1,000 people on campus. Harassing phone calls are the most common charge in the simple assault category, which includes verbal intimidation and assaults with hands, such as slapping, according to Shepherd. Aggravated assault includes the presence or threat of a weapon.
According to the report, the most prevalent offenses on campus were larceny/theft offenses. Tennessee Tech had the third lowest ratio of thefts with 9.34 incidents per thousand students. Austin Peay State University reported a ratio of 6.42, while Tennessee State University reported 8.61. Shepherd said the category includes thefts from buildings and motor vehicles, most of which could be prevented by exercising safer habits.
"Valuables in plain sight in an unlocked car or office are incredibly effective temptations," said Shepherd.
Tennessee Tech, which has one security staff member for every 444 people on campus, is second only to the University of Memphis with a 1:504 ratio. But Tennessee Tech's staff includes only 13 officers. Shepherd said large prevention programs combined with attention to details make her force efficient.
"Our residential life office organizes programs in every residence hall each semester to cover crime prevention topics," said Shepherd. "And our officers are often invited by groups to deliver practical reminders on personal and property safety."
A "Prevent Sexual Assault Week" offers self-defense workshops, date rape videos and literature designed to increase prevention. Residential life also offers escorts from 6 p.m. until midnight for students who don't want to walk across campus alone.
Although no campus is a sanctuary from crime, the university is patrolled 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Bike officers have increased police visibility and are better able to patrol certain areas. Officers also join students, faculty, administrators and staff in safety walks each semester to ensure everyone knows the safe areas.
For their part, students have organized SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions, a subsidiary of the national Students Against Drunk Driving organization. SADD is dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles by counseling against drug and alcohol use.
Shepherd said students also are becoming more involved with the campus Crime Stoppers program.
"We awarded $1,500 last year for information that helped us solve three different crimes," she said.
On the heels of news about fewer violent crimes in Cookeville, the university is assessing its contribution to community safety by reviewing "Crime on Campus" statistics, which universities are required to report to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation each year.
According to the report, drug and narcotics violations increased almost 53 percent last year at universities statewide. Tennessee Tech reported only eight violations, up from three the previous year. But many law enforcement officials say this doesn't reflect a rise in campus drug use. Instead, they credit more aggressive enforcement of drug laws. Shepherd agrees.
"The trend in Putnam County and on campus is a more aggressive enforcement," she said. "We're all working harder."
Shepherd thinks ahead about instilling good habits in potential university students by visiting elementary schools with a puppet presentation on safety.
"After all, many of these kids will be Tech students some day," she said. "Hopefully, they'll remember basic safety rules the rest of their lives."
While campus officers perform good-natured deeds like puppet shows and helping people unlock their cars, Shepherd said it's important for others to realize they are not security guards.
"Like city and county officers, university police officers are fully trained and commissioned through the state," said Shepherd. "We go to the same police academy as every other officer in the state and undergo 40 hours of in-service annually, along with specialized training. We strive to learn more about how to keep our campus safe."