By Annika McGinnis, The Diamondback (Feb. 14, 2013)
Kelsea Gerrety and Adrian Dipple were eating breakfast in Stamp Student Union at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
There, in a bustling hub of morning student activity, the juniors felt safe. But anywhere off the campus, or after dark, was a different story.
“We commute; he won’t walk to my car alone at 9 p.m.,” Gerrety, a psychology major, said.
“I feel like during the day it’s OK, but not any time after that,” added Dipple, a nutrition science major.
In the wake of an off-campus murder-suicide and four armed robberies on and off the campus in the past three weeks, the two are part of a growing number of students concerned about their personal safety. And although several apartment and business owners in the city said they’re heightening security measures in response, many said there’s only so much they can do.
“It’s more and more things that are happening,” said Marti Rowntree, Parkside at College Park owner. “After that one shooting in Connecticut, a couple days later there was another shooting in another school, then a couple of days later another shooting. Like, can we just deal with this already?”
There have been reports of four armed robberies since Jan. 27: in The Varsity, on Route 1 in front of Shanghai Cafe, on Lakeland Road and in Lot KK, an incident University Police spokesman Maj. Marc Limansky called the first on-campus armed robbery in 13 months. And early Tuesday morning, two students died and one was injured in a murder-suicide.
At The Varsity on Jan. 27, a man reportedly displayed a fake handgun and demanded a resident’s laptop. Management at The Varsity did not respond to phone calls or emails for comment, but The Diamondback previously reported the apartment complex temporarily increased patrol following the incident. Still, city councilman Patrick Wojahn said security can be improved.
“In The Varsity, there’s a problem with people leaving the back doors open,” he said.
Next door at the University View, management plans to implement ID scanners and has increased nighttime and weekend security, General Manager Sabrina Hunt wrote in an email. At the Enclave, property manager Marco, who asked to be anonymous for confidentiality with ownership, said security measures are already strong, with video cameras, elevator lock access and security guards on duty 12 hours a day.
Despite the steps managements are taking to protect residents, one of the biggest issues is students when they allowing “piggybacking” and unknowingly let strangers into otherwise secure buildings, Hunt wrote.
For instance, in early January at Parkside at College Park, a management assistant noticed a suspicious man “tailgating” into Parkside as residents were leaving. The assistant, who asked not to be named for personal reasons, said the man left after he saw that she noticed him. She didn’t see him again — until she noticed his photo in a recent article after police arrested him in connection with the Varsity robbery.
“I don’t think anything’s 100 percent foolproof — things can happen any place, any time,” Rowntree said. “We constantly drill into them ‘Be careful when you come in; don’t let anyone you don’t know in.’”
Though Rowntree said Parkside has a good security system with high-tech video surveillance cameras, she said she doesn’t see enough of a police presence around her apartment complex.
“When there’s nothing going on, you don’t see them,” she said. “They’re not going through the neighborhoods … there should be more patrols on bikes in this area.”
In the next couple of months, the College Park City Council plans to address that issue and increase University Police jurisdiction to places including Lakeland, Crystal Springs and Calvert Hills, councilman Marcus Afzali said. The council will also explore adding more security cameras, Wojahn said, as well as lights on the street, councilman Robert Day added.
Senior family science major David Yeom said he’s already seen more police on the streets when driving in the evening. Sunny Lee, a junior mechanical engineering major, said police brought her home Sunday night after noticing her waiting outside alone.
Employees at local businesses are also feeling anxious about the recent surge in crime.
At Subway on Route 1, assistant manager Regina Brown is very concerned about employees’ safety, especially at night. On Jan. 27, three people were charged with robbing and punching a student in front of Shanghai Cafe next door. Brown said that although Subway closes at 10 or 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, some workers don’t leave until around midnight.
“Sometimes we have just females working,” Brown said. “Sometimes we don’t know if someone’s watching us when we’re trying to lock up the store — we don’t know if someone’s going to rob us.”
A few times, Brown said, she was working late after the restaurant closed, and people were arguing outside and pushing against the door “like they were trying to get in.”
“If the door is open, what are we going to do?” Brown said.
But down the street at new vegan and vegetarian restaurant Ovo Simply Veggie, owner Derrick Chang said he’s not as concerned about the recent crime.
Chang said he sees a heavy police presence on Route 1, and he doesn’t keep his store open past 10 p.m. He also keeps windows uncovered to increase store visibility and deals mostly in credit card purchases to avoid holding large quantities of cash. He also puts in extra effort to make sure his workers make it home safely — because the real danger is outside the restaurant.
“When we close, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll actually go out to the car,” Chang said. “We leave the store together in a group. They will go straight home.”
Many business owners, city and university officials and students said it’s most important to make responsible personal decisions, because they can’t rely only on the measures in place.
“I feel like sometimes people forget that Maryland isn’t an island; it’s an open campus, so anyone can be here at any time,” said senior environmental science and public policy major Aziz Sani. “You can’t be oblivious — at Regents Drive, Knox, even Route 1, you have to be observant at any time.”
Coming from a very safe neighborhood, freshman psychology major Camille Merai said she has to remind herself that different precautions are needed here.
“I feel less safe, because I’m one of those people that would be walking home at 2 in the morning,” she said.
More students should also be taking advantages of the resources the university offers, such as Nite Ride and the police escort service, said Shannon Gundy, undergraduate admissions director.
Although university services offer students some protection, more can be done to cut back on crime, community leaders say. Day said the city and university community must work together to make safety a priority.
“We need to be realistic and realize we are on this Earth, and anything can happen anywhere,” he said. “We need to keep our eyes and ears open. The students need to look out for residents, and the residents need to look out for the students. That’s what being a community is all about.”