CINCINNATI – Administrators at the University of Cincinnati often talk about one hurdle they face: the perception of crime around the urban campus.
But after several burglaries and recent reports of assaults around campus borders, officials are tackling both the reality of crime and the perception of danger in the surrounding neighborhood. They’re asking for help from Hamilton County judges.
Despite data indicating a decline in serious crimes surrounding the University of Cincinnati, police and university leadership think Hamilton County judges can do more.
University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell co-authored a letter last month to Hamilton County judges requesting they issue more stern sentences to accused criminals targeting UC students. Both Ono and Blackwell believe county judges will be on board with their request, although unusual. The idea, they say, is to send a clear message to criminals not to target UC students because there will be more severe repercussions.
Since the letter Nov. 19, police have reported seven armed robberies or attempted robberies in the area.
How county judges will receive the message isn’t clear yet, though. Attempts to contact Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Beth Myers were unsuccessful Thursday.
"They (the judiciary) are really the end part of public safety and we just really want to make the statement that we’re standing up for the faculty, students and staff of the university and we want them to be mindful of that as they make their judicial decisions,” Ono said Thursday.
Overall, violent crime – homicide, robbery, rape and assault – in Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview is down 17 percent through the end of November 2013 compared to the same time period last year. Property crimes – burglary, motor vehicle theft, car break-ins and general larceny – are down 4 percent through the end of November 2013.
More specifically, the only two blemishes is the increase of burglaries and vehicle theft. From January to November this year, there have been 238 reported burglaries, compared to 202 over the same time frame last year. In the last month, there have been 36 burglaries in the neighborhood, compared to only 10 in November 2012.
“(The area round UC) is what we call a target-rich environment and we want to send a message to predatory criminals that prey on students through the judges that we take it seriously when they hand out sentences,” Blackwell said Thursday. “We take crime in this area against students very seriously and District 4 and 5 captains have already collaborated over the years.”
Fixing crime and creating a safer environment for students can’t be accomplished through instant solutions, that’s why over the last 18 months the university and police have spent money for extra off-duty patrols and for the installation of lights and surveillance cameras surrounding campus, according to their joint letter to county judges.
District 5 Capt. Paul Neudigate confirmed UC has contributed dollars for six uniformed police officers to patrol the area around UC every day of the week from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Two officers are on foot, walking Calhoun and McMillan streets while four others patrol neighborhood streets historically known to be crime targets, which are the few blocks around Warner Street. The police-university collaboration is unprecedented, Neudigate said.
Despite "redoubling efforts" to reduce crime in the area around campus, Ono and Blackwell said UC students “continue to be victimized at a troubling rate that is simply unacceptable.”
They said their efforts have included:
➢ Increasing the number of street lights
➢ Funding more security cameras;
Further, the letter says a new Case Watch program has been created to assist UC students who are crime victims, along with helping prosecutors and police. The program provides victims with:
➢ Transportation to court hearings;
➢ Education about the process of criminal cases;
➢ Assistance with preparing an impact statement.
“I think the tone and the intent of the letter is to let them know it’s a priority for us and to show we are working in concert and it should a priority for other parts of the criminal justice system,” said Neudigate, a UC alumnus. “We all know that there is limited jail space, so for those people committing quality of life violations, they’re out of jail within hours.”
Student Mason Jeffreys believes safety is not only a responsibility of the university and police, but students, too.
“When we get a lot of these emails (UC safety alerts), a lot it happens at 2 or 3 a.m. and it’s people by themselves, to better protect ourselves, students should not be out that late by themselves,” Jeffreys said. “I believe the university is doing all they can to address safety.”
Taylor Loyd, a fourth-year student, said he’s packing heat at times.
“I haven’t had any bad experiences being able to get to and from my house off campus,” Loyd said. “… I typically carry my handgun concealed with my permit to protect myself to ensure if something does arise, I can protect myself.”