For her senior year, Olivia Diez decided to move into a house off campus near Oxford and Bouvier streets. It wasn’t as expensive as the off-campus apartments and was still close enough to walk to class.
But less than one month into the semester, the convenience of living there wasn’t worth risking her life.
On Sept. 16, a man was shot to death a few houses down from hers. On Sept. 23, shots rang again, this time directly in front of her home.
“That’s the moment I decided I was going to leave the house,” the biology major said.
Diez decided to pack up and move back to her Princeton, N.J., home. She now commutes an hour by train to get to Main Campus.
“Considering what I used to have, I really don’t mind,” she said.
Diez is just one student directly affected by crime around Main Campus. Carl Bittenbender, executive director of Campus Safety Services, said crime in the police districts encompassing Temple mirrors city trends.
“The economy is funny,” Bittenbender said. “When the economy is bad, property crime is up.”
In the 22nd, 23rd and 26th police districts, violent crimes like murder, manslaughter and rape are down, while non-violent crimes – burglary and theft, for example – are on the rise.
But outside of Bittenbender’s and CSS’s control is the perception of crime in North Philadelphia due to a number of high-profile cases.
“I need you to know that every day I get up out of bed and think of ways to make this place better and safer,” Bittenbender said. “We try pretty hard.”
PERCEPTIONS VS. FACTS
A soccer player shot at night a block off campus. A highly publicized bust of a profitable student-run marijuana operation. Gunpoint home invasions have everybody talking and Philadelphia Police detectives investigating, putting the area west of campus under constant surveillance.
With the laundry list of high-profile crimes happening this semester, it’s easy to believe crime rates have skyrocketed since last year, which was fairly quiet, save a few publicized incidents.
Despite crimes visible to the Temple community, crime rates overall in Philadelphia and the 22nd, 23rd and 26th police districts surrounding Main Campus have dropped compared to those of last year.
Bittenbender said violent crime has dropped citywide, while property crime is staying static in some areas or rising in others. Reportable campus statistics are following the same pattern, he said.
“The big difference you see nowadays is electronic devices,” Bittenbender said. “If you look at theft, most revolves around cell phones, iPods and laptops. Electronics have [often] been stolen items, but now [someone] can walk out with five laptops in a book bag and get away.”
Bittenbender added the rise in property crime could also be indicative of the less-than-favorable economic climate.
Specifically in the Philadelphia Police districts surrounding Main Campus, the statistics also reflect those of the city as a whole.
In the 23rd District, which extends north from Poplar Street to Montgomery Avenue and east from 10th Street to 33rd Street, violent crime has decreased, while property crime has remained flat during the last year.
In the 26th District, located east of campus and extending between Lehigh Avenue and Poplar Street and from 10th Street to the Delaware River, violent crime also decreased, while property crime increased.
The only district near Temple in which both property and violent crime are up is the notoriously rough 22nd District, bound by Lehigh and Montgomery avenues to the north and south and 10th, 33rd and part of 34th streets to the east and west. In this district, which encompasses most of Main Campus, violent crime has gone up slightly while property crime increased noticeably.
Though a look at reportable statistics appears to indicate a possible growth in crime on Main Campus, Bittenbender said he feels 2008 will be a good year, especially considering the increasing student population.
“If you compare the increase in the residential population and crime, our reportable crime in the [Temple Police] patrol area is down,” he said, adding he would like to see theft and burglary rates for campus decrease.
In the past few years, he said the trend has been the same as it is now. With regard to a growing student body, crime rates have not increased in terms of percentage relative to population.
He said compared to 2007 rates on campus, which were the lowest since 2001, 2008 rates appear to be remaining flat, if not decreasing.
“It’s more than just actual crime,” he said, citing a prospective student’s parent who was concerned about police killings in Philadelphia that made national headlines. “It’s high profile, noteworthy crime [getting attention]. But overall, we’re doing pretty good, especially within our reportable area.”
Bittenbender estimated that between 1998 and 2004, the number of hours per week students being watched by Campus Police was increased by more than 750,000 hours.
“If you look at that in terms of crime, it’s pretty good,” he said.
The rise in student-watch hours is reflective of Temple shifting from being a largely commuter school to a residential campus in recent years.
Multiple student residences on and around campus have opened since Bittenbender first arrived at Temple in 1996, including 1940, 1300, Kardon-Atlantic Terminal, Oxford Village, University Village and the Edge at Avenue North.
More recently, with the lack of Temple-run housing to accommodate the growing student population, students have moved to the neighborhoods surrounding Main Campus, such as Yorktown, parts of North Central and Jefferson Manor.
Bittenbender now estimates that the number of students living on campus or within walking distance has doubled since 2003. Now, approximately 12,000 students live on campus or within walking distance.
“I find out more students live close every day,” Bittenbender said, adding that in the past, he had officers go door-to-door to take an unofficial census of students living in the area.
He estimated commuter students are on campus for 30 to 32 hours per week, while full-time resident students are on campus for 168 hours per week.
By statistics alone, the increase in number of students on and near campus and hours students spend in the area makes them more likely to become victims of crime, be injured in accidents or misbehave under the watch of Campus Police, he said.
Another dramatic change is many on– and off-campus residences, including some Temple-run facilities like University Village and Oxford Village, rent to students for 12 months instead of the academic year. This means more students on campus during the summer than ever before, Bittenbender said.
“The difference is this place used to be empty in the summer,” Bittenbender said, also mentioning the higher volume of students on campus at night. “We’ve made a lot of changes in terms of how we deploy.”
“Just statistically, if you have three times as many people here, you would deduce there would be that many more crimes,” Bittenbender said.
CSS is still responding to Temple’s urban turnaround and finding ways to protect students.
“We’re learning as the place grows,” Bittenbender said.
One way is to increase staff size.
Bittenbender said he has two more people in the Philadelphia Police Academy and is expecting to hire four more to his staff of about 125. CSS is exempt from the university’s hiring freeze put in place in October.
Temple has one of the largest college campus police forces in the United States, Bittenbender said. About 15 officers are on duty during the evening hours – the busiest shift – and all are active-shooter trained by the Philadelphia Police Department.
Another change students will notice is the patrol area of Temple Police. Its current boundaries are Oxford Street to Susquehanna Avenue and Ninth to 16th streets. Soon, supplemental patrolling will extend to a one-block radius outside the current boundaries, and Temple officers will respond within a two-block radius if Philadelphia Police get a call of a crime in progress.
Bittenbender acknowledges that some students who live beyond those areas will be upset with the limited jurisdictional authority, but boundaries need to be drawn, he said.
“This was an issue we didn’t have five years ago. We’re setting defined areas where our police can and cannot go,” he said. “You’ll always make people unhappy.”
CSS has also been working with Temple Student Government to learn students’ biggest safety concerns.
Nexus Cook, the vice president for external affairs, said Temple Police often looks to TSG representatives to find out the students’ wants and needs.
“They’re really passionate about what they do,” Cook said. “They always ask me for input about what students want.”
CSS and TSG have also been working on a new service tentatively called TUr Door (pronounced “To Your Door”). Meant primarily for students living off campus, the shuttle will take students from the Owl Loop stop on 12th Street to their doors. The boundaries of the shuttle will be from Girard Avenue to Cumberland Street and Fifth to 20th streets.
“This is going to benefit a lot of students coming out of the TECH Center at 4 a.m.,” Cook said.
ALERTS & ADVISORIES
A recent test of the university’s TU-Alert system sparked both interest and confusion around campus.
The system sends a text message, phone call and e-mail to all students and employees signed up to receive them in the event of an emergency.
When a TU Advisory was sent alerting students Philadelphia Police Sgt. Patrick McDonald was shot in the line of duty just northwest of campus, but an alert was conspicuously missing after the shooting of soccer player Mackenson Altidor blocks east of campus, students started asking questions.
Junior liberal arts major Rob Talton said the TU-Alert issued following the November 2007 attack inside Anderson Hall came hours too late.
“There needs to be a quicker way to get it out there,” Talton said. “I mean, students check Facebook far more than e-mail.”
Recently, CSS took over the responsibility of issuing TU-Alerts and TU Advisories and redefined both for the university community.
A TU-Alert will be issued only in the event of an extreme emergency that requires the student body and employees to take immediate action, like avoiding a certain area on campus or staying indoors.
A TU-Alert would be issued specifically in the case of weather severe enough to force class cancellations or during an emergency such as an active shooter situation, like that of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
“[We would issue an Alert when] we expect the university to take action because something extremely severe or catastrophic is happening,” Bittenbender said. “It is not news. It is to be used in the most severe consequences.”
A TU Advisory, on the other hand, while it also may warn of nearby danger, is strictly informational. Bittenbender said it would be used in cases like that of McDonald’s shooting to alleviate students’ worries related to increased police presence or helicopters, and also to clarify rumors and misperceptions.
Bittenbender said TU-Alerts and TU Advisories, especially the TU-Alerts calling for immediate action, are not necessarily as instantaneous and accurate as people may think.
“It would be minutes” before everyone received the alert, Bittenbender said, due to the volume of information being sent out at once.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” he continued. “Incidents are fluid.”
In addition to those instantaneous communication systems, CSS is working on an emergency management Web site, which it hopes to have live by the end of this month. The site will explain the purpose of those systems and also give students basic advice on what to do in certain situations.
“But, you certainly don’t want to wait for a text message on what to do [in an emergency],” Bittenbender said. “One of the first things you do in an incident is what you know you should do and follow your human instincts.”
The negative perception of crime Bittenbender mentioned is a concern for many Temple students, and everyone has different ways to cope.
Junior law and business major Alexander Francis, a native of the West Coast, said he feels safe on campus but carries a knife in case he is confronted en route to his home at 17th and Diamond streets.
“I’m from projects, so I know how things work,” said Francis, who added that neither he nor his friends have become crime victims on or near campus. “You do live in North Philadelphia, so you should carry things [to keep yourself safe]. It may sound outlandish, but it’s what I do to feel better.”
Francis said he knows many friends who also carry weapons for protection, especially women who carry mace.
“But it’s a bigger situation than Temple can answer,” he said, reflecting on crime in the surrounding area. “I’d rather see students try to fix it instead of just talking about it. All these students walk around oblivious, but I don’t care where you’re from, you need to help the community where you live.”
But not all students are so oblivious and adverse to the dangers just off campus.
Senior sociology major Christina Garcia, a native of North Philadelphia, said she feels safe on campus but is intimately familiar with off-campus plight and crime.
“Depending on where you’re from, it’s all relative,” said Garcia, who lives 15 minutes from campus. “Crime on campus has to do with people being fairly reckless, but [crime in the neighborhoods] has to do with the economy.”
Francis also cited the economic conditions and poor schooling as reasons for crime in North Philadelphia.
“But you live in North Philadelphia, so what would you expect?” Francis asked. “[Students] don’t like wandering out of their six-block radius that makes them feel ‘safe,’ but this world is not a safe place.”
For Diez, who moved back home with her parents to avoid neighborhood crime, the decision to get away removed some stress.
“The second I left, I felt better,” she said. “I really thought for the whole week and the day after the second shooting that my chest couldn’t relax.”
Some think violent occurrences are few and far between, so while they’re conscious of their surroundings, crime isn’t a major concern.
“Temple students don’t get messed around with too much,” Talton said, despite being a victim of a knifepoint holdup Nov. 4.
After marching to City Hall following President-elect Barack Obama’s election win, he was stopped on his way back to his Dauphin Street home by “two younger kids” near Broad and Jefferson streets. But he doesn’t hold it against CSS or the surrounding communities.
“The community itself around Temple is very welcoming,” Talton said, adding there are rarely “malicious” attacks.
Senior nursing major Erica Marhevka, who once lived on campus but now commutes, said having street smarts is one of the best ways to ensure safety.
“I think if you’re from the suburbs and don’t have any city experience, I feel you have a red flag on your back,” she said. “Know your boundaries.”
“If you’re a victim of crime, it’s not your fault,” Bittenbender said. “But you should not put yourself in situations where you could be a victim of crime.”
Bittenbender has many responsibilities to ensure crime rates remain low. Temple’s police force is among the largest in the country, which presents a double-edged sword. If statistics say crime is down, why is such a police force needed?
“The world, unfortunately, is changing in terms of people’s expectations of police,” Bittenbender said.
Tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University contribute to discomfort some people have regarding safety on college campuses.
At Temple, CSS provides the services and information students can use as resources in terms of how to remain safe on campus or what to do in emergency situations, Bittenbender said. Through the CSS Web site and print brochures, information is made readily available. But it’s up to students to absorb everything.
“Be smart about it,” Bittenbender said. “You have to be.”
Morgan Zalot and Chris Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.