Is NU safe?

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

The recent string of attacks near Northwestern has left more than just physical scars. The attacks also have changed lifestyles of some people who live on and near the Evanston Campus.

‘I”ve stopped walking the dog at night now,’ said Julie Johnson, who lives on the 1900 block of Orrington Avenue with her husband, 9- and 11-year-old sons and two NU students. ‘I don”t feel as safe as I have (in the past). We used to tell the boys, “You”re really safe here because of Northwestern and the police force.” I don”t like feeling worried for my safety all the time.’

Johnson is not alone.

Safety — both on and off campus — has become the top priority for many affiliated with the university.

‘Nothing concerns me more than the safety of our students, faculty and staff,’ University President Henry Bienen wrote in an e-mail to THE DAILY Tuesday.

Six attacks on students have occurred since Sept. 27, most recently early Monday morning. Two incidents involved attempted or successful purse snatchings, and four involved violent crime.

The recent string of attacks on students is unusual on the Evanston Campus, University Police Chief Bruce Lewis said.

‘We”re experiencing a spike right now, but this isn”t indicative of crime overall,’ Lewis said. ‘Because the crime pattern suggests that the suspects in a number of these cases are operating as a group, when we catch the group, it could eliminate much of the problems we”ve experienced.’

Administrators are taking steps to curb future incidents and are distributing safety information to people both on and off campus.

Lewis said it is crucial to report crimes as soon as they occur to ensure prompt police response and to help a person”s safety.

UP Assistant Chief Daniel McAleer said although the recent events have raised alarm in the community, they are helping to remind students, faculty and staff to take safety precautions.

TAKING ACTION

At a quarterly crime prevention meeting Thursday, university officials pledged to improve safety on campus.

NU hired three unarmed, private security guards to patrol between the University Library and Norris University Center, as well as near the Sorority and Fraternity quads, in golf carts with yellow strobe lights. Administrators also added two seven-passenger vans to the Escort Service fleet and installed a two-line phone system in the service”s dispatch office, located in Allison Hall.

No new police officers have been added to the UP force recently, but Bienen wrote in his e-mail that he would provide them if asked. Lewis said the department would conduct a study over the next month to see if it needs more officers.

But some aldermen said university officials should not expect the city to provide more policing, although Evanston City Council has helped students with safety issues in the past.

‘We”re doing everything we can in Evanston,’ said Ald. Arthur Newman (1st). ‘Go compare our budget to other suburbs and find me a suburb that spends as much as we are (on police).’

Newman said NU does not employ a sufficient number of police officers. He compared NU”s police force of 18 officers patrolling the Evanston Campus at one time to that of the University of Chicago, which has more than 100 on staff.

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) also said he doesn”t think the City Council can do much more to help NU regarding safety.

‘I don”t think it”s so much specifically additional things the council can do,’ Jean-Baptiste said, ‘but being real conscious about safety issues that students at the university face and residents of the city of Evanston are facing.’

ALERTING THE COMMUNITY

Alan Cubbage, the vice president for university relations, said NU is ‘unusually forthcoming’ about incidents related to safety. He said NU is one of only a handful of schools that place security alerts on the university”s Web page. The notices posted on the Web site on Oct. 27 and 28 received nearly 5,500 hits by users within the NU domain. Only incidents involving potential or actual harm of people are posted on the Web page, Cubbage said.

‘I think the university believes very strongly that any (public relations) concerns are second to delivering information to students on a timely basis,’ Cubbage said.

NU officials also communicate security alerts to parents. Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Desler usually sends a monthly e-mail to more than 1,000 parents with what she called ‘mundane information’ related to the university. Last week she sent two e-mails to the parent listserv regarding robberies and assaults. Desler said she received nearly 30 phone calls and e-mails in response to the listserv messages.

Melinda Hord, the mother of a Communication junior, wrote in an e-mail to THE DAILY indicating that she thinks the university could better inform parents about the recent attacks.

‘I understand that they don”t want to alert parents unnecessarily, but I wish I would have some written communication from them about the events that have happened and the steps they are taking to address the problem,’ Hord wrote.

Desler said her office has not yet discussed sending information home in the mail because of time constraints.

ADDRESSING TRENDS

Though Bienen is concerned about safety issues, he wrote that some urban schools have larger crime problems.

‘Evanston, while not perfectly safe, is not New York City, Philadelphia or Boston and has nothing like the crime incidents that many urban places have,’ Bienen wrote. ‘Parents and students know this.’

The vice president for business and finance, Eugene Sunshine, said he agreed that university officials cannot guarantee 100 percent safety.

‘We have as our objective making the campus as absolutely safe as we can make it,’ Sunshine said. ‘Obviously the ideal is a situation where there is no crime. But given the university is part of a community, it”s not in a cocoon.’

William Banis, vice president for student affairs, also said NU remains a fairly safe campus, despite the recent events.

‘If you study our historical information on campus crime statistics, it says very clearly that Northwestern is a safe campus,’ Banis said. ‘There”s a lot going well, but then we have this overlay of very serious issues to deal with.’

Although one of the assaults occurred downtown, some shopkeepers said they have not noticed any decrease in customers, especially late at night.

A manager from J.K. Sweets, 720 Clark St., who wished to remain anonymous, said she hadn”t heard about an assault on the next block over. The only safety problem her employees have mentioned is when people duck inside the restaurant to get away from people harassing them, she said.

‘Sometimes there”s a lot of bums outside here,’ the manager said. ‘They”ll scare girls and (the girls will) jump into my store and stay a while.’

THE DAILY’s Maridel Reyes, Jared Goldberg-Leopold, Chris Kirkham, Greg Lowe and Andrea Chang contributed to this report.

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