Following recent crime, security questioned

To make her way onto Main Campus from her apartment, junior public affairs major Stephanie Barber cautiously walks several blocks through North Philadelphia.

“I’m afraid of the area,” Barber said. “I just don’t like walking around.”

Barber, like many Temple students, has developed negative feelings about her surroundings while living at Main Campus. Alarming crimes and incidents often influence these opinions.

A Temple student hospitalized from a close-range gun shot, a house full of students tied up and robbed in a home invasion and numerous pedestrians becoming the victims of a string of robberies on or near Main Campus are a few of those incidents that arguably impact perceptions.

Crime and violence are nothing new to Temple and its surrounding neighborhood. According to Temple’s 2014 Fire and Safety Report, released in accordance with the federal Clery Act, there were more than 2,500 reported crimes on and around Main Campus between 2011 and 2013. Of those crimes, more than half were thefts. There were 46 cases of aggravated assault and 21 forcible rapes.

The Clery Act requires universities to disclose information about crime on and around a campus, including timely warnings about ongoing incidents, maintaining a public crime log and publishing an annual report which contains crime statistics from the previous three years.

The safety of Temple students has been questioned in the past. While the results were heavily criticized by both universities, the University of Pennsylvania and Temple ranked first and second, respectively, on Elite Daily’s 2011 list of the most dangerous colleges to attend.

When crime and violence become common occurrences in the lives of young adults, questions of the behavioral and psychological effects of that come into question.

“I’ve never really, honestly, felt uncomfortable at Temple,” said junior political science major Alex Siegel.

Siegel, like many students, has lived on or near Main Campus during his entire time at Temple and said he feels comfortable living in the surrounding neighborhood.

“I’ve had friends who were robbed at gunpoint but you kind of just don’t really think about it,” Siegel said. “There’s always police. I’ll walk home in the middle of the night, like if I’m at a party and I’ll have no problem doing that.”

According to a Temple press release, approximately 14,000 students live on or near Temple’s Main Campus, roughly 44 percent of its total enrollment.

According to a 2008 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics – the latest data available – Temple Police is the largest university police force in the country. The force employs more than 130 sworn police officers – roughly one officer for every 11 students living on or near Main Campus or one for every 31 students overall.

By comparison, the Philadelphia Police Department consists of 6,600 sworn members; one officer for every 235 Philadelphians, according to the department’s website.

Additionally, Campus Safety Services has a Security Division that includes 65 Temple security officers and 250 full-time equivalent security officers from Allied Barton Security Services, a contract security company. In total, Temple’s security force has 445 trained employees according to the FAS Report.

“We like to direct our resources to where we are having problems,” Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Charlie Leone said.

At the beginning of the fall semester, Temple Police expanded its patrolling parameters to include nearly 25 additional square blocks. The new patrol zone is bound by 18th Street to the west, Susquehanna Avenue to the north, 9th Street to the east and Jefferson Street to the south.

Leone believes that students can already feel the effects of the additional security.

“Students who have seen us out there are giving us positive feedback saying that they are glad to see us,” Leone said.

According to Crime Reports, the number of assaults with a deadly weapon has dropped by 40 percent in this zone since the patrols were expanded on Aug. 29.

Administrators said crime trends of this semester are similar to those of previous years, despite sensational outliers.

“In 2014, what we are seeing is we’re kind of flat in most areas with the crime,” Leone said. “This year compared to last year, we’re neck and neck as far as looking at crime with robberies. Some of them have been more high profile – you had the home invasion – which makes the news and everyone becomes aware.”

On Oct. 19, two men followed a Temple student into his home on the 1900 block of 18th Street and proceeded to bind him and his roommates, fellow students, with zip ties and held them at gunpoint. One student, who police said was “pistol-whipped” by one of the robbers, was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital and treated for minor cuts and bruises.

Beside that student, no one else was injured, but a few thousand dollars worth of personal property was stolen.

The TU Alert and TU Ready  systems is the university’s primary means of communicating with the Temple community regarding emergencies and criminal events, pursuant to the “timely warnings” requirement of the Clery Act. The alert system, however, has received criticism over the years for being irregular in its coverage.

The Clery Act states that higher education institutions are only required to send out an alert if there is an “immediate” or “continuing” threat to the student body.

“The TU Alerts make me feel safer,” said Kevin Otte, a senior media and productions major. “But sometimes there are cases where I’ve heard or I’ve seen police cars and other serious things going on a little off campus that I’d like to know about but they don’t usually report.”

Some feel that the alert systems foster an environment of fear and ultimately oversaturate students with information.

An example of this could be seen mid-November, as students received continual updates regarding a string of robberies occurring around Main Campus.

“I was always like, ‘Oh, another one of those,’” Otte said. “They all kind of blended together. They don’t really give you closure. They just kind of give you a couple bits of information and never really say what happens eventually, so people are constantly on edge worrying about not being safe.”

Some recent TU Alerts did include notice that a suspect was caught.

Joseph Alkus, a criminal justice professor at Temple, explores this concept with his students.

“I asked them if they feel more fearful or less fearful when they subscribe to the TU Alert system and it was about 50/50,” Alkus said. “But most times they didn’t feel like they had all that much value.”

“I don’t think Temple students are desensitized,” said Mary Stricker, a sociology professor at Temple. “I think they’re scared just like anyone else is in the neighborhood.”

Stricker suggests that students acclimate to the environment and find ways to handle crime – not become desensitized to it.

“You don’t stop being afraid but you realize that you have to live your life,” Stricker said. “Temple students realize they have to go to class, they have to go to the store, to the library, to pick up take-out, they have to go see their friends and go to parties, despite the risks involved.”

Stricker added that the most important thing is for most Temple students, their residency in North Philadelphia is temporary.

“It’s different when you know that you won’t be in the midst of prevalent crime for the rest of your life.” Stricker said. “So in terms of the impact emotionally, psychologically, it makes people afraid, but when you know you have options to remove yourself from that crime, it’s a big cushion, both for your mind and body.”

Some students would argue, however, that they do feel numb to the crime around them.

“When your friends come visit you and they’re like, ‘Wow, Temple’s so dangerous,’ … it’s like the first thing they mention about Temple,” Siegel said.

“You just don’t really think about it,” he added. “You’re like, ‘No it’s not. It’s just like a normal campus. Just don’t go past Susquehanna [Avenue] and 20th Street.’ So it’s kind of one of those things where it’s accepted and it’s kind of a normal way of life. You definitely do get desensitized to it.”

A commonality among students is a sense of lighthearted humor towards crime in the area.

“A lot of the jokes that students will say if someone gets the front tire of their bike stolen or something, they’ll say stuff like, ‘Oh, well it’s North Philly,’” Otte said. “But that just shouldn’t happen anywhere … So when crime does happen, students react a little more anticipatory, or treating it more normal than it should be.”

Barber said that she’s desensitized to crime that happens on and around Main Campus, but she admits that she’s afraid to walk around alone at night.

“If I was at home [in southern New Jersey] and I heard gunshots I would probably freak out,” Barber said. “But like here, you hear what might be gunshots and you’re just like, ‘Oh, that’s North Philly. Oh, that’s Temple.’”

When lecturing his criminal justice classes, Alkus asks his students who have attended Temple for a few years if crime has influenced their behavior.

“Are they more aware?” Alkus said. “Do they not walk out at night, or if they do, do they go with other people? What kind of things do they do to be more perceptive?”

Typically, he finds that most do not intentionally adjust their behavior. Those who do, do so by trying to remain aware of their surroundings and avoid things like texting while walking.

On Nov. 11, a Temple student was shot outside a fraternity on the 1500 block of North 17th Street during an attempted robbery.

Siegel expressed shock that the shooting took place so close to a student residence, but its impact on him wasn’t dramatic.

“It was definitely shocking because it could happen to anyone. It could be anyone’s party or anyone’s house that you go to,” Siegel said. “Again, it didn’t really change my behavior. It made you a little more aware for that little bit of time but then it kind of just floats to the back of your mind.”

Whether the result of adaptability or becoming desensitized, Temple students are finding ways to survive in the world they live in.

“It happens and you just gotta roll with the punches,” Siegel said.

Jared Whalen can be reached at jared.whalen@temple.edu and on twitter @jared_whalen  

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