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Ask for more to reduce crime

| Thursday, November 13, 2014

Just prior to the kickoff of Saturday’s devastating loss to Arizona State, students received the following email:

“Around 2 a.m. Saturday morning a Notre Dame student was approached by three men in a silver sedan on Notre Dame Avenue between the Morris Inn and Holy Cross Drive.  One of the men got out of the vehicle and instructed the student to come with them.  They demanded money and took the student to a gas station and a grocery store so he could get cash for them.  They then brought the student back to campus.  No gun was seen, but it was implied that at least one of the three men had a gun.”

The email concluded with brief physical descriptions of the three men, referrals to Notre Dame’s “Off Campus Connector” and Security Police websites for “further information about safety on and off campus” and a reminder that 9-1-1 exists.

Since Tuesday the facts of that case have been called into question, but there is no question that NDSP must change the way it reports crimes against Notre Dame students and the way it cooperates with the city of South Bend to reduce them.

In late September, three Notre Dame freshmen were held at gunpoint while walking back from an off-campus party. Golden Dome in sight, they handed over their iPhones and cash to two men pointing guns at their heads. Two weekends later, a Holy Cross student was shot in the foot and the head outside of a house in the 600 block of Notre Dame Avenue, exactly one mile from Main Circle.

Notre Dame Security Police correctly handed both cases over to the South Bend Police Department. What I find unacceptable is that NDSP then neglected to report either of these incidents to on-campus students, simply because they occurred outside of their jurisdiction. The police reports were emailed only to off-campus students, a puzzling fact given that all three victims of the September armed robbery lived on campus.

This divide between who receives what police reports reflects a false picture. Dozens of cabs line up at Main Circle every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night of the school year, charging a student rate to drive groups of people off campus to student houses and bars hosting student nights. I personally live on campus, and I went off campus two nights last weekend. For all we say about a “Notre Dame bubble,” the jurisdictional boundary between on and off campus between 10 p.m and 4 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights is immaterial. Taking a ‘not on campus, not our problem’ approach to informing students is misguided and potentially dangerous to Notre Dame students.

Notre Dame is not shy about reporting other off-campus threats. Last Friday night, every single student received a nearly 600-word email from Fr. John Jenkins detailing Notre Dame’s response to Ebola. There have been four Ebola cases in the entire United States since September. Over roughly the same time period, there have been two gun-at-head incidents within eight blocks of campus. According South Bend City Councilman Dr. Fred Ferlic (ND ’68), quoted in Oct. 16 WNDU story, there have been at least eight gun-at-head incidents within two blocks of the Notre Dame campus since October 2013.

We can’t be content with changing only the way in which crime information is reported to students. An uptick in crime in the areas most regularly travelled by Notre Dame students means the University has more of a responsibility than ever to work alongside the city to correct the problem. Peer institutions have given us good potential models to follow. Yale and Brown both use cash transfers to their cities to pay for police and security. The University of Chicago staffs a 4.2 square-mile area around its campus with police to ensure the safety of students and faculty who live in the area. And the Duke University Police Department has an overlapping jurisdiction with the Durham Police to help better patrol off-campus areas where students spend their social hours.

Notre Dame could pursue any one or a combination of these options for about one percent of what it plans to spend on expanding our football stadium, and simultaneously do a great service to its students and the surrounding community. But it should act very soon. Fr. Jenkins assured us in his statement on Ebola, “We are prepared and committed to the safety of all who live, work, study and teach at Notre Dame.” I take him at his word and look forward to the University’s swift response to this much nearer threat.

Alex Caton is a senior political science major in the one and only St. Edward’s Hall. He welcomes commentary ar [email protected]

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

About Alex Caton

Alex is a junior political science major living in the caves and ditches of St. Edward's Hall. He has written for the Viewpoint section since spring 2013

Contact Alex