Kurt Mitman | Holster the Hysteria
Sorry to be Kurt | DPS does a good job of keeping us safe given our surroundings
January 11, 2013, 12:09 am·
Sorry to be Kurt
Three students robbed at gunpoint in five days.
Students up in arms over apparent crime wave.
Administration compelled to increase patrols, hire more guards and pay overtime shifts.
That was the scene following a spate of armed robberies at the end of last semester.
Did we overreact just a bit?
Perhaps we should have expected it. According to the 2011 Jeanne Clery report, from 2008 to 2010 robberies occured about once every 10 days in the Penn Patrol Zone. Given that estimate, there’s roughly an 86 percent chance that there will be at least one week with at least two robberies during the semester — and a 32 percent chance of at least one with three or more.
Certainly, it is troubling to read of robberies occurring one after the other. But the proximity of the two shouldn’t be cause for concern. Our reaction wasn’t about the robberies per se, but the frequency with which they occurred — we perceived there to be more crime than normal. To the contrary, the number of robberies last year actually declined by 27 percent compared to 2011 as of Dec. 18, after the incidents occurred.
Penn advertises a beautiful urban campus. Urban. Cities are more dangerous than the suburbs. We knew this when we decided to come to Penn. If you were overly concerned, then you shouldn’t have come. The University has come a long way, though. When I visited Penn in the fall of 1997, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to spend four years of their life here. It made New Haven feel safe.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t unique to Penn. Anywhere with a high concentration of wealth — like Penn — is a target for robbery and theft.
Consider that thefts of Apple products accounted for almost 15 percent of major crimes in New York City last year and then think of the sheer mass of Apple products owned by students.
By my own estimation from walking around Huntsman Hall, several million dollars’ worth of Apple products are brought in and out every week by students, faculty and staff. It should come as no surprise that Penn’s campus — not unlike areas of New York — is a target.
I think that we’re lucky, actually, that the closest we’ve come to a robbery in Huntsman was the robbery last month on 38th Street. The average bank robber nets less than $5,000 in a heist. Imagine how many MacBook Pros, iPhones and iPads an armed robber could swipe by hitting up a few GSRs during a busy study time. It certainly seems easier than robbing a bank, with a potentially higher payout.
We also need to do our part. We’ve all seen the guy talking loudly on his iPhone while openly carrying an iPad atop a MacBook Air. We should be more conscious of how we carry ourselves and our expensive hardware.
Of course, the University should make reasonable efforts to secure the campus. But it’s not going to build a wall to separate us from greater Philadelphia, nor should it. By continuing to expand the University, Penn is effectively trying to push the seedier elements further to the periphery of campus. But the periphery is the periphery. People from outside the Penn community are always going to venture onto campus and some of them invariably will commit crimes.
Penn can continue to increase the number of AlliedBarton and uniformed police that patrol campus — and academic research does indicate that increased police presence reduces crime. However, there are limits to what can be achieved by just adding bodies.
The flip side of increasing the police presence is that an armed robber is more likely to encounter an armed police officer. My conjecture is that this will increase the chances of guns being fired on campus and ultimately may make Penn less safe. Certainly, if someone were robbing me at gunpoint, I don’t want to think about what would happen if a police officer came upon us and drew his gun.
The administration was right to respond to the incidents that happened at the end of last semester.
But we as a community need to realize that there is no panacea to end crime on campus and that the DPS is doing a good job keeping us safe.
Kurt Mitman is a sixth-year doctoral student from McLean, Va. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @SorryToBeKurt. “Sorry To Be Kurt” appears every Friday.