Security at Rutgers a concern for students

New Brunswick, N.J. (KRT)-It was around 3:30 a.m. Sunday when Renee Wymbs says she and four girlfriends got into a shoving match with seven drunken boys, who taunted them and exposed themselves as the girls

New Brunswick, N.J. (KRT)-It was around 3:30 a.m. Sunday when Renee Wymbs says she and four girlfriends got into a shoving match with seven drunken boys, who taunted them and exposed themselves as the girls walked home from a birthday party near the Rutgers New Brunswick campus.

One of the girls called her boyfriend to stay with them for protection, Wymbs said. But he was in a fight of his own at the Squam fraternity on College Avenue.

That brutal fight, which left two of the boyfriend’s fraternity brothers in critical condition with head injuries and him with a broken nose stunned the campus. Eight students have been arrested in connection with the baseball bat attack on College Avenue, a broad thoroughfare of stately homes and university buildings.

“It was just so malicious, and so close to home,” said Wymbs. “This isn’t something that should happen ever, especially on a college campus.”

The attack and other recent high-profile incidents-the university president was mugged outside a liquor store near campus and an assailant in a two-year string of sexual attacks in the city is still at large-have raised concerns about safety at Rutgers.

“I don’t tell my mom even what happens to me because I’m scared she won’t let me go here,” said Wymbs.

Joseph Catanese, police director for New Brunswick, said “overall a great deal of effort, expense, time, and energy” is put into making the town and campus safe. But Catanese acknowledged that drunken, rowdy and lewd behavior by Rutgers students is a big problem.

“We have to devote so much time to baby-sitting these young adults, it’s ridiculous,” Catanese said.

“Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights it can become a zoo out there,” he said. “The people who live in town year-round feel like they’re under siege, and there are only so many officers and so much time.”

Several students expressed fears about safety on campus but others said Rutgers was much like home: If you were vigilant and avoided the rowdy party scene, your odds of avoiding crime were OK.

“I don’t feel any less safe, but I think if I was someone who went to parties, that I would be a little more cautious,” said Melissa Hayes, a student from Dumont.

Rutgers Police Chief Barry Roberson said police responded quickly to the melee early Sunday morning. A sergeant was just a block away when the call came in and caught two of the alleged attackers red-handed.

Still, the chief allows that Rutgers presents security challenges. Nearly 42,000 people are on campus every day and more than 14,000 students live there, making it one of the largest residential campuses in the country.

The Rutgers police force has 46 officers supplemented by nearly 300 community officers who help with security, operating shuttle buses and escorts for students who are concerned for their safety or unable to walk home at night.

“There is a greater expectation of safety on campus,” said Giordano. “But we tell our students anything that can happen at home can happen here.”

Eleven women, including two students, were sexually assaulted in areas near the campus in New Brunswick in the past two years. An assailant has been identified but not arrested. In response, Rutgers police have augmented city police.

Burglary, car theft and alcohol-related incidents keep Rutgers police busiest, Roberson said. In 2002, 68 burglaries were reported and 36 cars were stolen on campus, according to statistics provided by the university. About 50 alcohol violations and 40 drug incidents were reported.

“A lot of our problems are alcohol-related,” said Roberson. “Thursday night is big.”

Though most Rutgers students interviewed said they felt safe on campus and didn’t worry about getting injured at parties, many said small fights were a routine of Greek life. When a brother from a fraternity tries to get into a different house and everyone has been drinking, pushing, shoving, the occasional one-on-one fistfight breaks out, they said.

“It’s the college culture,” said Giordano, the deputy police chief for Rutgers. But Giordano, whose daughter will attend Rutgers next year, offered some crime prevention advice: “If you want to avoid being victimized by crime, one of the first things you should do is remain sober.”

Staff Writers Evonne Coutros, Ben Lesser, and Allison Pries contributed to this report. (c) 2003, The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)Visit The Record Online at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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