Ray Ramos wants to buy a gun. Over the last 18 months, the Wharton senior's off-campus house has been burglarized three times. The last time, one of his female housemates was stuck in the house alone with the robber. "It's scary when you think you might have to confront a burglar sometime in your apartment," he said. "I wouldn't want to walk out of my room and find somebody there and be at their mercy." "It's pushed me to the point that I feel in order to feel safe at home I need a gun in case something happens. I hate thinking that that's what it has to come down to but that's how I feel." One of Ramos' housemates, College senior Adam Pines, said he has felt West Philadelphia's crime problem in many other ways. One of his friends was robbed at gunpoint at 41st and Pine streets. Another of his friends, upset that his apartment was robbed, just bought a $700 Beretta handgun. "It's pretty immediate," he said. "I think it's gotten a whole lot worse in the last couple of years, especially in the last year." ' Ramos and Pines are part of a growing number of students who no longer feel safe going about their daily life. Dozens of students are victims of crime each year. Countless others have adjusted their lives to protect themselves. And several seniors said this week they feel crime is as much, if not more, of a threat than it was during their violent freshman year. They said several highly-publicized incidents three years ago -- including a near-fatal stabbing of a student and the murder of a local youth outside of the McDonald's Restaurant at 40th and Walnut streets -- shocked them into changing their habits. After a two-year lull, many students said they think the University has been hit with more violent crime than ever this fall. This semester, no fewer than 15 armed or strongarm robberies have occurred. And a robbery 10 days ago in which a student was seriously injured has brought crime to the forefront of discussion. "This has gotten everybody talking," said College junior Jeffery Jacobson, a resident advisor in the Quadrangle and the co-chairperson of University Council's Safety and Security Committee. "I think this case has really sobered some people up. I think it's really a shame that it took this kind of case to make that happen." Engineering senior Kathy Magliochetti said the concern about crime she developed as a freshman is re-awkening. "Those [incidents] were kind of eye-opening for freshmen," she said. "Now it's back to a height where it's very scary to go out." · According to University Police statistics -- which do not include all crime involving students -- on-campus and off-campus crime has remained constant over the last three years. But some students say they perceive that the crimes have become more violent. Jacobson said it seems students are more likely to be hurt in crimes now than a few years ago. "There seem to be more reports of injuries than there were," he said. "The criminals have gotten more brazen." Pines said crimes no longer follow a predictable pattern. Pointing to the break-in at his house, he said location or time of day no longer seem to have any bearing on how crimes occur. "They've lost their shame," he said. "That they'd break into an apartment while people are home is pretty amazing to me." And Ramos, who said he is from a "bad neighborhood" in East Los Angeles, said he did not expect West Philadelphia to have the same crime problems as Los Angeles. Instead he found that the problem was worse. Other students said they were not prepared for the crime problems they faced upon arriving on campus. Only those students who come from urban areas or Philadelphia suburbs said they knew what they were getting into. While most students did not explicitly criticize University officials' response to crime, they said current measures are not sufficient. · Students differ in how they deal with the crime threat. A small handful dismiss the problem and do not let it affect their lives. Most students seem to adopt basic common sense principles, like not walking alone at night, but do not let it become a constant worry. Some, like Ramos, consider more drastic measures. Freshmen Paul Gait and Steven Marks fall into the first category. "I don't think it [the crime problem] is bad at all," said Marks, who is in the College. "Sometimes it's blown out of proportion. I'm pretty safe." "It's pretty overrated," Gait added. "I don't think it's bad unless you do something pretty stupid." But Gait and Marks are exceptions. Most freshmen, as well as upperclass students, say crime is a major threat. College freshman Marie Levine said the October 19 robbery, in which two men in a van grabbed the student's bag, dragged her 30 feet and ran over her, was a shock and has made her concerned she might become a victim. "I've never thought in that manner before but you have to," she said. College senior Virginia Young is living off-campus this year for the first time, about a block away from the site of the incident. Until recent weeks, she said, crime was not a major concern. Now it is. "In the future I imagine I'll be a lot more careful about walking home at night, even at eight or nine o'clock," she said. Young said in light of recent crimes, she has decided to buy mace. College freshman Holly Strutt keeps mace in her backpack. She said she was embarassed when her father suggested carrying it, but after being on campus for two months is grateful for the protection. And Friday two students, after perceiving an increased student concern about crime, sold a new mace-like weapon called CAPSTUN on Locust Walk. Wharton juniors Brian Butler and Marek Gootman sold about 25 to 30 of the two-ounce, chemical spray weapons as part of the Wharton Entrepeneurial Club. Butler said he read about it in a magazine and ordered one for himself to protect himself. When he read more about it, he decided to sell them on campus. He said several sororities have expressed interest in making large purchases. "There's definitely a need for some kind of deterrent," he said. "It's something to make you feel a little safer when you walk to WaWa." University Police spokesperson Sylvia Canada said police do not recommend buying weapons. She said students should just report crimes or suspicious activity and let police handle it. · Students say they see a big difference in crime once they cross 40th Street. "It doesn't bother me in any way to walk on campus," said Engineering junior Kaan Erenler. "But, past 40th Street, forget it." The addition of 31 new police officers over the past year, Canada said, has made the area within campus borders relatively safe. Jacobson agreed. "So long as you're within the radius of 34th Street to 40th Street, Walnut to Spruce, the safety is far better than it was," he said. "I look over my shoulder, but I don't have any trepidations about making the trip." And students living in the dormitories said they have few, if any, concerns about their safety inside the buildings. In 1985, University officials dramatically increased residential security after the murder of a graduate student during Thanksgiving break and the report of a rape in the Quadrangle. Some students say they hesitate to move off campus -- and their parents discourage them to -- because of concerns over crime. · Jacobson and University Police officials say students can significantly reduce crime risk. Jacobson said students are much less likely to be victims if they walk in groups, cut down on walking at night and do not antagonize others. He also said students should not hesitate to use services like PennBus or Escort Service. A few years ago, many male students said they felt uncomfortable or embarassed to use the service. Now, several male students said they use the service regularly. "Worrying about crime is not a macho thing," Jacobson said. "If someone puts a gun in your face it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. That person has control over whether you live or die. Walking through campus is not a test of masculinity -- it's a test of intelligence." Student use of University ride services has grown "drastically," according to Steve Carey, assistant director of transportation and parking. Carey said Escort Service serves nearly as many riders in a single month as it used to serve in a year. In the 1985-86 school year, Escort Service provided 13,350 rides. This figure jumped to 23,870 in 1986-87; to 24,722 in 87-88; to 41,244 the next year; and to 78,466 in '89-90. The service has provided almost 9000 escorts this month alone. Ridership of PennBus, which has routes in West Philadelphia and to Center City, has also increased, rising from 37,460 rides in 1987-88 to 69,188 in 1989-90. Carey said Escort has succeeded in decreasing the time students wait for the service, and tried to meet growing demand by adding a new van this year. In 1985-86, he said, about five percent of students had to wait over 30 minutes for a ride. This figure has now dropped under two percent, he said. Still, some students said they do not call Escort because they do not want to wait. Several students say they only use the service in extreme situations -- like when they are alone off-campus. Canada said students can take an active role in preventing crimes by immediately reporting suspicious activity to police. She said she believes students are reporting crime more often and more quickly than they used to, indicating more genuine concern for safety throughout the community. "When you have people actively coming into the department and reporting things, that's a good gauge," she said. "We have students coming in, pointing out suspects and going to court."Comments powered by Disqus
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