Editorial: UCPD and Riverside must do more to stem campus violence

Lin Chai/HIGHLANDER
Lin Chai/HIGHLANDER

We students have gotten somewhat accustomed to the idea that Riverside isn’t the safest place after dark. Once the clock chimes four, many of us run out to our cars in Lot 30 or Lot 26 while there’s still daylight and repark in a closer parking lot so we won’t have to walk too far after dark. The campus escort service gets frequent use from students worried about the crime in the area. And those of us who don’t live in the dorms try to limit our time on campus to the daylight hours so we don’t have to trek through unlit streets at night to find our way home.

Still, even knowing this, we all got a good shock when, on Jan. 16, we received a mass e-mail from the University of California Police Department (UCPD) detailing five acts of crime that occurred all within the span of a single hour. And there have been even more crimes since then, including one on Jan. 24, where a victim was robbed in broad daylight.

Previously, crimes were perceived as incidental occurrences; people just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But now they have become more pervasive. In all of 2012, 31 cases of crime were reported by UCPD via UCR’s system of mass e-mailing. But in just this first month of 2013, there have already been eight crimes reported through the same system. It’s only February, but if this rate of eight crimes per month continues, UCPD will have alerted the campus community to 96 crimes at the end of the year, more than triple last year.

And it’s not just around UCR. Even though the east section of the city of Riverside tends to have greater crime rates, the city as a whole is experiencing above-average crime. In November 2012, the most recent month for which crime statistics are available, there were 1,032 property crimes reported. Earlier that year, in January 2012, there were only 807. In the entire year of 2011, 9,794 violent or property crimes were reported. One year later, that number stands at 11,053—not including December, whose crime statistics haven’t been released yet.

Living in Riverside and UCR itself has undoubtedly made people more aware of crime and has encouraged them to take steps to protect themselves and their property. But this increase in crime is nonetheless disconcerting. Students rely on assurances of safe travel when they pack up at the end of class and head home for the day, or when they decide to chill at a restaurant after a day’s work. If that cannot be guaranteed, our attendance at late-night classes or events would be only a shadow of what it could be.

This would have implications for the Riverside economy, driven as it is by students deciding to brave the outdoors and shop or go out to eat. In addition, late-night classes could see greater attrition rates, as students decide the costs of walking down Linden at night outweigh the benefits of attending lecture. None of these would be positives for the campus community or the Riverside community at large.

Thankfully, UCPD is taking steps to improve the crime situation at UCR. Their response to the five crimes on Jan. 16 was swift, and three alleged perpetrators have already been taken into custody. And the three suspects from the Jan. 24 crime were recently arrested as well. Every crime is different, but UCPD has generally been quick to respond to reports of crime and has maintained a willingness to keep students informed by sending out e-mails to the campus community whenever a crime has occurred.

A quick and effective reaction to crime is great, but prevention of crime in the first place should always be the number one goal. Studies have shown the action that results in the greatest decrease in crime rates is increasing police presence in an area. So UCPD’s goal of increasing its visibility around campus and in the city is strongly welcomed. In particular, UCPD should focus on Blaine Street, Linden Street and Rustin Avenue.

Instituting a vanpool or system like it would also be beneficial to the campus community. Many students live in off-campus housing close enough to walk to campus during daylight hours. But at night, the roads becomes more treacherous. A vanpool system would allow those students who lack a car or prefer to travel on foot the opportunity to continue to walk to campus while ensuring the return trip home at night is not a problem.

In addition to the new actions UCPD is thinking about making, they also need to make students more aware of the resources already at their disposal. For instance, the blue poles on campus are designed for emergency calls to be made by would-be victims. But there are too few of these emergency poles placed around campus to be truly effective. If a student were confronted around campus today, he’d be lucky to be within eyeshot of one. For the system to work the way it’s intended, the number of poles on and around campus needs to be substantially increased.

UCPD doesn’t have sole jurisdiction over the Riverside campus—there are things that need to be done by the city of Riverside as well. One of the easiest methods to deter crime is to place more streetlights in areas with high crime rates. Criminals are less likely to assault victims or steal property in well-lit neighborhoods, but the streetlights near campus are few and far between. Simply increasing the light in the area would go a long way toward fixing an untenable problem.

The city should also consider instituting cameras around the campus community. But if Riverside pursues implementation, they must do so with students’ privacy in mind. So far, reports indicate their effect on crime is mixed at best. Without any substantial evidence either way, more research needs to be done before anybody commits to purchasing and installing the expensive pieces of technology. Even if they are found to lower crime, Riverside must implement them in a way that does not compromise the privacy of students.

UCPD can start implementing some of these solutions, like increasing their visibility around campus, right away. Others, like the vanpool system, will take more time. But in the long run, putting these new measures in place should decrease the abhorrently high crime rate.

The recent crimes on Jan. 16 and Jan. 24 have propelled the issue of campus safety back to the top of the list of priorities. UCPD should take this high-profile opportunity to undertake actions that will stop the ever-expanding crime rate from growing even further. Otherwise, it will be a squandered chance to improve the safety conditions around UCR. And students will continue to fear walking the streets at night.

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