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Disorganized crime fighting

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It has become painfully obvious to anybody reading The Observer since school began that the issue of off campus crime has regrettably surfaced again, and with a vengeance. Whether it was the plethora of assaults down Notre Dame Ave., the break-ins all around the Northeast Neighborhood, or the violent carjacking that took place less than a mile from Notre Dame’s gates, the problems have seem to become more fanatical and outrageous at every turn.

As a senior off-campus, I am obviously concerned for the well being of the students and my friends scattered around LaSalle, Notre Dame Ave., and Vaness St. Moreover, as a student, I am concerned with the tepid University response, and some of the misplaced efforts of the South Bend Police Department (SBPD). To date, students off-campus have received a lone e-mail, from Fr. Poorman, explaining that “We have experienced crime near the campus previously, but in these most recent cases the perpetrators have been bolder than in the past.” Furthermore, he assures us that ResLife is “working closely with our University and local police agencies to proactively address the issue.” I find neither of these sentiments reassuring or helpful. Beyond this single effort, little has been openly discussed or put out in a forum that would actively engage students and the community living in these areas to action. Confidence in action by the University is ebbing low.

The effectiveness of the SBPD in dealing with crime in the area is also in doubt. The normal cause for concern is the zealousness on the part of the police force to target underage drinking and employ scarce resources to stop a bunch of kids in Polos and miniskirts from indulging. This seems especially true when SBPD is using multiple patrols to write dozens of tickets in one fell swoop, something that happens with some regularity every semester.

However, the state budget is tight, and SBPD was nearly unable to reach a contract agreement for the new fiscal budget. Things would have been worse had already tight resources been stretched further. For what they have, the force has made several notable arrests in the past few weeks, and for that it deserves some recognition.

Interestingly, the SBPD has been increasingly using new technology (such as Twitter, and Facebook) to help spread the word about safety and crime issues. This is a positive step and could be even more effective if an effort was made to get the students involved. Imagine if most students off campus could receive text messages warning them of a rise in crime on their block, or if there was someone at large in the community. It would certainly be a start.

Furthermore, the student government has been working on a new project aimed specifically at off-campus woes. Although the details remain vague, the idea is aimed at providing late night shuttle transportation in off-campus areas for students. I think this is an exciting idea, and should be pursued. A route similar to the current Notre Dame Transpo bus would hit many of the major spots already, and could be adjusted to swing by downtown, and back up through the apartment neighborhood. This could be an easy and effective way to at least prevent some of the “en-route” crime that occurs.

The quickest and strongest response so far has come from Mark Kramer, the largest landlord of off-campus student housing, and a strong advocate for action on this issue. Within the last week, he has begun to promote Gargoyle, a company which will provide a house with a security check, log all serial numbers of valuable devices/electronics, and leave them with an ultraviolet stamp that identifies them as stolen goods. Additionally, he has provided this service free of charge to his tenants, in addition to the security car that drives around his properties on the weekends. This has been the most concrete action yet observed in the community, and hopefully is only the beginning.

There are a lot of moving parts in the puzzle here, and to claim the students have no responsibility for their own safety would dangerous and absurd. However, if the University, the SBPD, some of the larger landlords and student government (along with the snazzy new off-campus Web site) unified to combat crime in the Northeas Neighborhood, progress could be made in a bigger way.

Jason Coleman is a senior accounting major. He can be contacted at coleman.70@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.