A wave of violent criminal activity plagued the streets of Philadelphia last year, boosting the city’s murder count to 380 – the highest figure in at least seven years, according to FBI statistics.
Most prominently, the West Philadelphia District of University City saw a sharp spike in crime last fall. In addition to a surge in armed robberies and assaults, a University of Pennsylvania student was hit by a stray bullet on Jan. 15 during a robbery, and an Upper Darby man was shot and killed on Christmas Day in a diner. On Jan. 20, four University City high school students brutally beat a Drexel University graduate student and pushed him into traffic while videotaping the attack.
Worried university administrators at Drexel and Penn are responding to heightened crime by upgrading campus security and raising awareness among students, parents, faculty and staff.
In an e-mail statement, Penn’s Division of Public Safety said that although increased violence in Philadelphia “had a negative impact” on the safety of the Penn patrol area, university police and the Philadelphia Police Department created “a visible deterrence for criminals while making a high number of arrests.”
Several of the apprehended assailants were minors involved in violent robberies, including a 14-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy.
Penn recently announced a $5 million security plan to increase its police force and enhance lighting, emergency phones and other security technology throughout its patrol boundary from 30th to 43d streets and Market Street to Baltimore Avenue.
Similarly, Drexel’s Department of Public Safety reported an “uptick” in crime but stressed that a collaborative effort with Penn and PPD is reducing area crime. Bernard Golloti, Drexel’s senior associate vice president of public safety, said in an e-mail that “many of these were crimes against persons, and those reported to the Drexel Public Safety Department mostly involved juveniles and occurred in Powelton Village and Mantua neighborhoods.”
Despite the recent spate of incidents, students frequenting the University City area seemed unperturbed.
“I don’t really care,” said Josh Vigen, a Drexel freshman majoring in finance. “I hear things every now and then, but that can’t be helped. What happens, happens.”
Other students, including Penn seniors Rachel Dodson and Jeff William, commended the efforts that their school is making to quell nearby crime. Dodson, a history major, attributed the recent rash of incidents to juveniles. “I think they pose a threat, obviously, which is why [Penn] beefed up security,” she said. “I think it’s really sad, if anything.”
Unlike Dodson, William, a biological basis of behavior major, did not hold juveniles accountable for the sharp increase in area crime. “I wouldn’t necessarily blame them,” he said. ” … There are a lot of things that are unspoken about the problems that juveniles face. I think if there are ways of trying to engage juveniles in some activities after school … it would be a nice way of maybe keeping them occupied in a substantive way.”
While violent crimes were on the rise in University City last year, Temple’s crime rate has remained low, according to Capt. Robert M. Lowell of Campus Safety Services. Lowell, who oversees the Investigations Unit, said that the amount of juvenile crimes on or near Temple’s campus has been steadily declining since 2001.
More than 40 incidents perpetrated by juveniles have been reported to Campus Police since Aug. 29. These include civil assault, sexual assault, harassment, robbery and criminal mischief. Most are classified as harassment, Lowell said, adding that students have been fairly consistent in reporting the incidents.
Charles Leone, deputy director of Campus Safety Services, said that groups of juveniles who perpetuate violence may inadvertently involve Temple students in the scuffles.
“Their intention may not have been to hurt a Temple student but you walk through a bunch of kids acting up … you can get caught up into that very easily,” he said. “It’s not a problem because we’re paying a lot of attention to it.”
Lowell said that juveniles were not specifically targeting college students and that there was no pattern in location among the crimes. “I don’t think that it’s strictly a university crime, but it’s a crime that all police departments have to look at and try and resolve through a variety of different methods,” he said.
Freshman accounting major Jim Waddington is a recent victim of juvenile crime. Waddington, a member of the cross country team, was on a daylight practice run with his teammates when two male juveniles “sucker-punched” and pushed him from behind on Girard Avenue and 18th Street. Waddington lost consciousness, hit the pavement hard and was rescued by a nearby SEPTA bus driver who called 911. He spent three days recovering from the injuries he sustained at Temple Hospital.
“I think about it and I get upset …” he said. “It was a really senseless act. It boggles my mind why they had to do it.”
Sophomore art major Julia Robinson witnessed two incidents committed by juveniles on campus. One occurred near the Student Center located at N. 13th Street, where a large group of juveniles vandalized a vehicle. The other involved juveniles who pelted a female student with snowballs.
“This made me a little bit more wary,” she said. “If it’s a problem that’s happening [at University City], I’m sure it’ll happen here too.”
Leone said that Campus Safety Services is networking with public safety administrators at both Penn and Drexel to prevent a possible increase in crime on Temple’s campus.
“I think that’s really helped us a great deal,” he said, “but I’m not going rest on our laurels and say ‘Hey, nothing’s ever going to happen at Temple.'”
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at email@example.com. Staff writer Alysha Brennan contributed to this report.