On a campus located in the 12th most dangerous city in the country, according to the FBI’s 2012 uniform crime report, Acting Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Charlie Leone said his team of police work day to day on improving the safety of the students. According to published crime statistics, they have.
The constant stream of students into crime-ridden North Philadelphia neighborhoods continues to present a challenge for university officials, who have been candid about their intention to build more on-campus housing in efforts to keep students close. Safety escort services, including a new program in which students can be accompanied by university police to their front door, have found a place on campus, but the safety climate around the university continues to change.
Despite drops in crime numbers, Leone said student perception of campus safety is still a challenge.
“If I said to you, ‘Do you feel 22 percent safer this year?’ what would you say?” Leone asked in a recent interview with The Temple News. “This year we have had 22 percent less crime, but do you feel that amount safer?”
For many students, the off-campus risks are just a part of the Temple package.
“It’s North Philly, so there’s really not much you can do,” sophomore political science major Erinn Kovar said.
Leone said the TUdoor Owl Loop program has seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in usage in the past five years. Last semester, more than 50,000 people utilized the system.
But CSS’s greatest challenge, Leone said, is the differences between on and off campus environments.
“We do have a lot more [safety] resources dedicated to our campus,” he said. “We have extra patrols, we have extra lighting. Those are the things that keep crime down. The further you go away from campus, you’re relying more on street lighting [which is] city resources.”
“Going to the Tech Center late at night all the time, I love using the Owl Loop,” junior psychology major Stacy Finnegan said. “At night, it’s easier than having to look over your shoulder every five minutes at 2 a.m. walking home.”
Finnegan still expresses doubt with a program that emphasizes walking over a trip on the Owl Loop bus.
“I don’t know how much more safe I would feel with someone walking me to my door,” she said.
Prior to this semester, Leone said the walk program was an informal practice. For this semester, it has been formalized. To access these services, a student should dial 8-WALK.
Terah Stivers, a sophomore social work major who lives on Diamond Street, said she feels completely safe on campus. But, she said, students should be aware of the risks when venturing off campus.
“I have never felt unsafe [off campus] but I am definitely a lot more cautious,” Stivers said.
Kovar spoke bluntly about Diamond Street, describing it as an area where “a lot of s— goes down.”
But Leone said most of Diamond Street’s poor reputation is based on student perception rather than actual danger.
“The reality of it is that we really haven’t had any [crime] increases along a particular corridor,” he said.
The main culprit of crime on students, according to Leone, normally involves expensive smartphones, which can easily lure a criminal to a student.
“I just say to students, ‘Would you walk around with $200-300 in your hand?”’ he said with a laugh.
Finnegan had a different take, saying she uses her phone as a crime deterrent.
“If I feel like I am being followed, I’ll pull it out and be like, ‘Oh, hi,’” she said, mimicking conversation.
Leone said that the danger with this practice is two-fold, saying the distraction may not be worth the risk.
Junior biology major Kyle Kalinowsky said he agreed.
“I feel like safety is a lot about knowing what’s going on around you, so if you don’t know what’s going on and you’re focused on a cell phone call, you’ve got a lot more liabilities,” he said.
Being aware of the environment that surrounds you is a top safety tip of Leone’s, who says common sense is the best safety tool around.
“If you keep your brain focused on where you’re going and use some preventive things, chances are you’ll be a lot better off if something happens to you,” he said.
Stivers also said that confidence goes a long way in preventing crime.
“You have to get into the city mindset…know where you are, (and) even if you don’t, act like you know where you are,” she said.
Evan Rotunno, a junior social services major, is an outlier when it comes to safety in North Philadelphia: He seeks safety for his off-campus apartment in the form of a gun.
“I have my gun at my house,” Rotunno said. “I don’t bring it to school, but it’s used for a little of both protection and fun.”
Leone said he does not condone students taking this level of protection into their own hands and said these weapons could be used against the student as opposed to the attacker. Instead, the acting executive director of CSS said that he advises prevention before self-protection.
“The thing about any sort of weapon is that you have to be extremely careful because you may not be proficient in its use,” Leone said.
Cindy Stansbury is a crime beat writer for The Temple News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.