Off-campus crime: a major problem at SJU?

At almost any college campus, off-campus crime is a concern, and St. John’s is no exception.

According to the St. John’s Campus Security Act Statistics for the Queens campus, however, there have been more reported crimes occurring on campus than off. In 2005, there were 72 total on-campus incidents reported, compared to nine reported off campus.

The 2005 on-campus offenses include 41 reported burglaries, two robberies, two motor vehicle thefts, two forcible sex offenses, one case of aggravated assault, and one case of arson. Many of these crimes were reported to have happened in the Residence Halls.

Off-campus, there were seven reported motor vehicle thefts and two reported robberies.

These figures have slightly increased from 2004 when there were 62 total crimes reported on campus and eight reported crimes off campus.

Although these are the only crimes that were reported to Public Safety, other incidents may have occurred off campus but went unreported. Once outside the jurisdiction of Public Safety, offenses are dealt with by the NYPD.

One St. John’s student, who wished to remain anonymous, related a story of being attacked recently while walking alone to his apartment at night.

“I was coming home from work in the city around 10 p.m., and this guy had followed me on the bus home from Forest Hills,” he said.

The man continued to follow him after he got off at his stop near 164th St. and 73rd Ave., the student said, and soon demanded that he give up his money.

“He grabbed me from behind, and started yelling at me,” he said. “I managed to get free, and the guy cut himself in the process. He ran the other way and I ran toward my apartment, and luckily there was a cop car on the corner.”

The police officer was soon able to apprehend the suspect, who was arrested and is currently awaiting trial, according to the student.

The student said that he views what happened to him as an isolated incident, and not a major problem in the St. John’s area.

“This guy followed me from the train to the bus, so it could happen to anyone,” he said. “I don’t think he even knew I was a student because I was dressed in my work attire. This is the first time I’ve ever had anything like this happen to me, or even heard of anything like it.

“I think the area I live in is pretty safe. I live a block away from a precinct.”

He added, however, that he will be more careful and aware of his surroundings when walking alone at night in the future.
Thomas Lawrence, vice president for the Department of Public Safety, maintains that off-campus crime has not been rampant in the St. John’s neighborhood.

“It hasn’t been a big problem,” Lawrence said. “[Public Safety] has not had a big issue with off-campus crime involving our students.”

The most recent major off-campus incident involving St. John’s students occurred in 1990 when six male students were accused of sexually assaulting a female student in an off-campus house. Three of the six accused were indicted and faced 25 years in prison. They were later acquitted of the charges.

“There was a time when we would receive complaints from the community that students were knocking over trash cans,” said Michael Campbell, quality assurance investigator for the Department of Public Safety, “but we haven’t gotten as many complaints lately.”

Both Lawrence and Campbell believe that when off-campus incidents do occur, they are usually alcohol related.

“I would think alcohol seems to be in place somewhere along the way,” Lawrence said, “whether they are actually drinking at the time or before they engage in some activity that becomes disruptive to the neighborhood or to someone else.”

“[A few years ago] there were a few bars that weren’t too far from campus that were serving the [students],” Campbell said. “Because of that, they would get intoxicated and come back to the Residence Village and get into fights and things of that nature.”

He added that since then, these particular bars have closed and there have been few incidents.

To help open discussion about off-campus issues, the Queens Community Dialogue Group was established. Participants include members of the Community Board, the police precinct and other community organizations, along with Lawrence and Joseph Sciame, vice president of Community Relations at St. John’s.

“What happens is, we meet and the community voices whatever concerns they may have,” Lawrence said. “We then look into it and give them a follow-up during the next meeting.

“This is a very safe area,” he added. “But we suggest that students travel together, especially at night. Also, be aware of your surroundings and always carry a cell phone in case of an emergency.”