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Campus Insecurity

By Kathy Y. Wilson · December 12th, 2012 · Kathy Y. Wilson

There is a profoundly false sense of security not only on the campus of the University of Cincinnati but also surrounding it, and this isn’t anything new.

Way back in the Stone Ages of the early 1980s when I was a floundering freshman English major and about to spend all my student loan money on cassette tapes at Mole’s Record Exchange on Short Vine, I thought there were walls and moats visible only to those entering or exiting any parts of the then-less-than-bucolic-brick-and-mortar campus.

I was a commuting student so I had favorite side street (Burnett Woods) and main drag (Jefferson Avenue) go-to parking spots.

I never had to look over my shoulder or be “aware.”

There was the time I was skipping afternoon classes one brilliant spring day. Approaching my car in Burnett Woods, I spied two men about to unzip and bump uglies against the trunk of my 1970s-era canary yellow AMC Hornet. It wasn’t until I got right up on them (I loudly cleared my throat) that they zipped up and blithely walked away.

None of my colleagues in any of my classes ever traded horror stories about crime, being crime victims or receiving crime alerts from public information officers at UC.

Unlike now.

I’ve noticed a creeping ghettoization of Clifton surrounding UC’s campus either despite or because of the development as I schlep back and forth to campus to drop off and pick up my partner from work or when I’ve ridden the bus there from Walnut Hills to teach classes throughout the past six years.

Environs surrounding UC are filthy and thick with passive indigent folks posted outside Chipotle and very aggressive ones between Panera and BW-3. Young black kids orbit the bus stops from Calhoun Street at the rear of the Law School around to what must be one of the grimiest bus stops in the city on McMillan Avenue by the Thai Express carry out.

An actual neighborhood intermingles with all this urban swell many students think is cool because all the beer, fast food, coffee, drugs and energy drinks are within walking distance. This neighborhood exists when students leave for the summer and it’s inconvenienced when school is in.

This part of Clifton ain’t pretty.

And I know because I have seen it grow increasingly overcrowded, slum-like and grungy in the nearly 30 years since I was a student.

And I listen to my students trade stories of their apartments and cars being burglarized; women students swap self-protection tips after some of them have been followed to their cars or even mugged; some of them have even been barred by police from getting to their own front doors because a violent crime has occurred nearby or next door and their street’s cordoned off.

I teach journalism at UC and the biggest part of that responsibility includes telling students the truth. 

About every stinkin’ thing.

I always tell them they’re not living in a gated community, that UC is in the urban core of the city and that anyone from anywhere can walk onto and across that campus at any given time of the day or night.

I chastise them for living in an iUniverse where everyone is earplugged in and tuned totally out, walking and jogging and driving through life to their own, no doubt freely downloaded playlists. (Frighteningly, a growing number of students traverse campus and nearby streets wearing Beats by Dr. Dre noise reduction headphones.)

I encourage them to complain loudly about their safety because, after all, they are paying for their educations. And part of their tuition, I am certain, goes toward security.

I also tell them to write about it in the student newspaper.

They think this is a good idea, but they’re students.

There is a wide disconnect between thought and execution.

However, what they snort and roll their eyes most about are UC’s police officers and the deluge of email and cell phone crime alerts from Greg Hand, UC’s vice president of public relations. 

It’s laughable that UC cops are now on Segways, electronically leaning forward across campus when their cruisers are either parked empty or they’re sitting in them idling on cold days. 

And Hand appears Oz-like, somewhere dutifully firing off fear factor alerts and missives.

Meanwhile, many students don’t report crimes. 

Like any victim, they assume it does no good.

UC’s police officers have never seemed able to get the business of security just right. 

In February 1997, Lorenzo Collins escaped from the mental ward of University Hospital and ran around Clifton chased by UC officers and Cincinnati Police, who shot him dead in a Clifton backyard as he wielded a brick above his head. 

If that weren’t egregious enough, it was discovered there’s no radio communication between UC police and city officers.

In August 2011 UC Officer Richard Haas tased 18-year-old Everett Howard after responding to reports of an on-campus fight. Haas claimed Howard approached him “with clenched fists” after Haas told Howard to stop.

Haas fired his Taser and Howard was cuffed on the ground. 

Howard died of cardiac arrest. 

UC’s initial paper reports were redacted when they were finally released to the media.

There’s been a recent spate of reports of strong-arm robberies by what victims describe as young black guys on foot and on bicycles; there are always the requisite push-in robberies in dorms; there have been shootings, car thefts and jackings and sexual assaults.

In a perfect world students wouldn’t be vulnerable by being drunk, by walking or jogging alone or by wearing headphones everywhere.

UC’s cops would be visible, communicative and capable but not deadly.

And Greg Hand?

Hand wouldn’t always be the bearer of bad news and he could stick to coming up with different ways to say “no comment” when presidents abruptly leave.

And he could keep adding parts to his epic “History of UC” video series.

But that history better include crime.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



12.12.2012 at 05:41 Reply

This is an excellent article.  I too have observed Clifton's painful decline over the last twenty to thirty years.  I believe that U.C. caused the bulk of these problems for itself by deliberatelyand systematically destroying the Short Vine and Calhoun /McMillan neighborhoods and business districts and the the social networks that supported them.  Now its just corporate cheese surrounded by a crime pit. Hopefully some students and others will stick around and plug in and make Clifton better than ever.


12.15.2012 at 09:08 Reply

I know it's splitting hairs, but the areas surrounding UC to the south, east, and west aren't Clifton - they're CUF or Corryville. As far as the crime goes, it seems to ebb and flow. Lately, it appears to be mostly property crimes of opportunity with a few strongarm robberies thrown in. One of the best ways to keep crime down is actually get outside, be visible, and as Ms. Wilson says, be aware of your surroundings.

I am curious what the crime stats show, as all I've heard thus far are anecdotes - worrying, absolutely, but I wonder if social media makes us much more aware of incidents.


12.16.2012 at 12:47 Reply

Rant of a dated and out of touch tenured processor lamenting the good old days. Sad really, you are suppose to be guiding the young minds of your field, but instead chastise them.  Why, because they live and communicate in a world that you have willfully let pass you by.  Perhaps you should plug into the "iUniverse" and at least attempt to understand the students who's tuition pay your salary. And please remember that another one of your responsibilities as a journalist is accurate reporting. None of the areas surrounding UC that you reference are actually Clifton, at least attempt to follow some of the lessons taught in your 101 class. 


12.18.2012 at 01:16

Property owners and relators who own or work in Clifton are the only people who care about dividing and designating the neighborhoods around Clifton. To most every other person in Cincinnati, "Clifton" refers to the entire area around UC. It's been that way for decades. It's accepted. Citybeat is for the people, not for protecting your property values.


12.21.2012 at 02:25

It's not property values that make Clifton residents and business owners want to scream when generalizations are made about events in "Clifton" that are related to the presence of the University which we have no control over. And which mostly occur to the south and east of Clifton. Residents of Clifton have a Citizen Safety Patrol, we talk to each other and attend meetings with the police about actions we can take to prevent crime in the busines district and residential streets.  Unlike the apathetic students Ms. Wilson mentions, we actively watch for and report our car and house break ins.  We call the police when we see suspicious activity.  We talk to each other; we know who is on vacation and who is not home during the day.  We don't give money to panhandlers, so they go somewhere else.  That sounds arrogant, but there are very few of them that are in need of money for food or housing. We walk our residential and business streets without fear because we have worked to make it so.  We are a community, we watch out for each other, and we find ways to make change happen.  If the bus stop is so grimy, why don't residents, business owners, and students join forces to clean it up and keep it so.  Why are students so apathetic about reporting or taking action?  I take issue with so many of Ms. Wilson's statements that I have written a letter directly back to her.  If residents and students care about their neighborhood, and I'm sure the residents care more than the students, they can find some way to take action against crime and filth.  That includes the students of helicopter parents that obviously aren't paying a fair share of their tuition or else they wouldn't be leaving their electronics visible in their unlocked cars or spending their lunch money buying pot from those "indigent" panhandlers.  I'm not surprised there are some youths in Corryville who are angry when they see college kids with the latest fashions, latest electronics, buying $3 lattes, and $80 exercise pants,and wasting money in many ways.  Those youths never had a chance for college (and therefore a chance at a decent paying job), and many who do are squandering tuition and other support funds on luxuries that college students of the 70s and 80s never expected to have in college.  Find a way to make your neighborhood a safer better place or don't complain.  BYW, your neighborhood includes the place where you work as well as where you live, Ms. Walnut Hills.