Watching the cat’s back
UH and the pride had an interesting year in 2012. It started with so much promise: the impending move to the Big East Conference, the promise of a new football stadium and renovations to Hofheinz Pavilion, the promise of a new University Center and new facilities representing the dawning modernization of our beautiful campus.
Now the Big East is all but dead, construction continues to take away parking space and educational costs are rising with increased fees hitting our tuition statements. And there is a dark cloud on the horizon — the growing campus crime rate.
The UH Department of Public Safety released its 2011 Annual Security & Fire Safety Report in October, oddly late in the year. It was a mixed bag of mostly troubling statistics as The Daily Cougar reported Oct. 15. Of particular concern was the rise in vehicle thefts and burglaries. One of the lone bright spots in the report was a decrease in robberies. But this is not new information. What is new are some crime statistics from the last four months.
The statistics are compiled using the information in the daily crime bulletins found on the UHDPS website. The bulletins focus on theft, burglary and robbery information from Aug. 20 to Dec. 20, with incidents occurring either on or near the campus and involving students or campus visitors. There were 178 reported thefts, the key word being reported.
Of those thefts, the single most stolen items were bicycles. Almost a quarter of the reported thefts involved bicycles; in 33 of those 42 incidents the bicycles were secured. Cell phones and laptops were also popular targets. The area most frequently targeted was the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center. Moody Towers and the M. D. Anderson Memorial Library were also hot spots.
Of the 45 reported burglaries, 26 occurred in a building or habitation. Cougar Village was hit up seven times last semester, followed closely by the Calhoun Lofts at six. Of the 18 vehicle burglaries, Cullen Oaks and its parking lot, garage and south lot were hit a combined four times, though more than half of the incidents occurred in regular parking lots.
Then there are the robberies. Combining aggravated robbery, robbery and attempted robbery into one category, there were eight incidents, compared to one on campus and one on public proporty but nearby in 2011.
Almost all of these incidents occurred on the fringes of the campus — street side with easy escape routes for the robbers such as Lot 9C, Lot 16D, Entrance 10, 4800 Calhoun and 3800 Holman. Many of these cases involve the theft (or attempted theft) of a cell phone. In the light of these worrisome figures, it draws attention to comments UHDPS vice president for Public Safety and Security Malcolm Davis made during a Q-and-A with a reporting class last semester, covered in the same Oct. 15 article, that the campus police are ill-equipped to handle the expanding university on their own.
“Basically there are 40,000 students and only 50 police officers,” Davis said. “So obviously, what you all see here on campus is much more than what a police report can.”
That is not a reassuring thought. For every 800 students, there is about one officer on campus. The numbers are bolstered by a campus security force, but by and large they are not as well-trained, experienced or equipped to handle crime as a uniformed officer.
As the campus continues to expand, the University must make a better effort to expand its police force and our officers need to become more visible, especially on the edges of the campus, the residence halls and the parking lots. This also falls on the University to expand the UHDPS budget to make new hires possible. That would likely come with yet more fees, but this is where some of the blame falls on students.
Of the reported thefts, around 78 percent of the incidents involved unattended, unsecured items. Usually this means the person walked off and left these items around and in the open for anyone to take.
When moving around campus this year, take your stuff with you. Be mindful of your surroundings — especially near the streets. Stay off your phones unless it’s an urgent matter and even then, keep it quick — robbers will be less likely to target you if they do not know what you have. If you need to use your phone, use it by a door, in a crowded area or far from the street — robberies usually involve isolated students walking on a sidewalk.
And everyone should look out for one another. The University has partnered with the company MySafeCampus.com, which allows users to anonymously report incidents. Call campus security, track down a staff member, use the site — do not remain silent, come forward.
It is becoming more apparent that relying on campus police as it stands is not enough to secure our campus. Eventually, the University will figure out a way to more effectively combat crime, but until that day comes, the pride must be more proactive in protecting its own. The best security in any given moment is a watchful eye, an attentive ear and a willingness to act. Remember that the person passing you on the sidewalk is not just another victim waiting to happen or a bad person waiting to jump you — that person may be your best chance in a bad situation.