By Medina Roshan
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (Reuters) - Police at Maryland's Towson University will increase their campus presence at night, the university said on Tuesday, after a group calling itself the White Student Union promised its own patrols to curb what it sees as rising black-on-white crime.
The White Student Union has been drawing attention since one of its members defended segregation during a panel discussion earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an influential forum in Republican Party politics.
The roughly 50-person union was formed to celebrate European-American culture, and members attend church and the shooting range together, said Matthew Heimbach, 21, the founder and self-professed commander.
The group decided to operate its own patrols starting next week - the men would carry large, heavy-duty flashlights and the women pepper spray - in response to campus police alerts about sexual deviance and armed robbery, he said.
"We might as well step up and be a part of the solution," Heimbach said. "What we see is unfortunately ... every time the offender is a black male usually between 18 and 25."
A February 28 blog post on the group's website entitled "Black Crime Wave Continues!" said: "Every single day black predators prey upon the majority white Towson University student body."
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, placed the organization on its list of hate groups, and students raised concern the patrols would make the campus less safe by increasing racial tension.
"The TUPD (Towson University Police Department) is increasing its presence on campus during the evening hours so as to provide higher visibility," the university said in a statement, which also called the White Student Union an unrecognized campus organization.
Police and the Black Student Union referred queries to the university statement, which said violent crime on campus fell 37.5 percent in 2012 from to 2011 but did not offer more recent statistics or racial data.
"They just want to cause trouble," said Eric Shepperd, 21, a junior who likened the group to the Towson chapter of the Youth for Western Civilization, a national organization opposed to affirmative action and multiculturalism.
Heimbach was the president of the chapter, which disbanded after student opposition and the resignation of the chapter's faculty advisor.
"It was clear that they couldn't handle themselves in an adult way," Shepperd said, referring to an incident where "white pride" had been written in chalk around the campus.
Heimbach said four-person teams of one woman and three men would patrol from around 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and one day out of the week between Monday and Thursday to supplement police.
The White Student Union has received threatening emails that Heimbach said he would forward to county police.
"I got called at four in the morning to be told someone was coming to kill me and my family," Heimbach said.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman)