AKRON, Ohio — College is the first taste of independence for so many students. It’s a transition period into the real world.
For the past 13 years, Kerry Jackson has worked to make sure students are safe during their short, transitional time at the University of Akron, they stay safe.
“A parent allows their student or child to comes here, there's somewhat of an ownership you have to take. You’re taking on the responsibility of their safety,” he said.
Jackson has been a police officer for 26 years, first at the city of Akron’s Police Department and then at the University of Akron. He had planned to retire this year, but the death of 18-year-old student Maya McFetridge in September changed the trajectory of his career.
“The parties and all that type of stuff, we kind of accept that as being part of college, but going to memorials? That should never be a part of your college experience," Jackson said.
McFetridge, 18, a freshman from Berea, was shot near the intersection of Kling and Wheeler streets just south of campus. Police said an off-campus party was dispersing when people began fighting in the street. During an altercation, an unknown person began shooting, striking three people. McFetridge was killed after multiple shots were fired. Alex Beasley, 25, also died.
“The university, for a while now, has been looking at ways they’d be able to up the security in that area,” said Jackson. “I don’t want to say it was the catalyst, but I think that incident allowed us to move forward faster. Everyone took notice of that incident and we were able to bring the parties together quicker than we needed.”
Jackson said University of Akron’s President asked him to postpone his retirement and to become the school’s first-ever director of off-campus security.
“I didn’t feel like it would be right to turn him down because he said he needed me,” he said.
Jackson said Akron is experiencing the same uptick in violent crime that major cities throughout the country are also experiencing.
“Anything off of campus, in that direction, a lot of times stuff just happens over there,” said sophomore Jordan Penn.
Freshman Janissa Johnson echoed Penn’s sentiment.
“I do feel a little scared too scared to go off campus, at least by myself,” she said.
Jackson noted areas off-campus are experiencing a period of "growing pain," saying COVID-19 forced students back home and forced landlords to find people who aren’t students to fill their properties.
“You have I guess the townies and the college kids all learning to live together and people who may not have visited in that area before are now visiting that area, and I think those are the majority of people that are causing the problems,” he said.
He has a tall task ahead of him but said it starts with getting every stakeholder on the same page. He’s met with landlords, students, parents, residents, the mayor’s office, city council, county officials and more.
“If the university doesn’t succeed, it’s going to hurt the city. Everyone has something to gain and something to lose,” he said.
The University of Akron Police Department and the city of Akron Police Department have a mutual aid agreement, but Jackson said they’ve opened up a more direct line of communication.
“You will noticeably see police officers on a regular basis in that area,” he said.
The school is also putting in security cameras off-campus to better monitor the area, is contracting out civilian neighborhood watch groups and will be hiring five new police officers.
“We are going to do everything we can do to make sure it doesn't happen again,” Jackson said. “I want people to understand that we do care about our students. We are putting our best foot forward to keep them safe.”