Taekman: Crime at CWRU

Sarah Taekman, Staff Reporter

Ask any student on campus. I can guarantee that they can name off at least one notable Case Western Reserve University security alert they received in the past. 

Ones that come immediately to mind include the robbery of the Huntington Bank in Uptown in broad daylight in Nov. 2016, the head-lamp wearing cat burglar in Apr. 2017 and the stolen personal pizza in Nov. 2017. Most of these reports featured incidents ranging from petty theft to potentially dangerous situations on-campus, with more serious incidents occurring off-campus as well. 

We also remember the times that we were not alerted to campus threats. The 2017 “Facebook Killer” (also known as Steve Stephens, who shot a man on Facebook Live) was not identified as a threat to campus while the man was at large. Rumors were rampant, with students refusing to leave buildings and spreading information via social media. Students did not receive information on the situation from the school itself until hours later. Here, early criticisms of the alert system heavily emphasized the promptness of the security alerts.

Although drastic changes in campus security can be attributed to more recent and serious incidents, it has been a work in progress for multiple years so far. 

Some of the earliest increased safety measures within the last four years were enacted in Nov. 2016. Increased police patrolling, more frequent shuttle services and longer hours, and encouragement to download the CWRU Shield and Rave safety applications—these efforts were renewed throughout the academic year and into the next one. Still, most of these changes barely registered with the campus population.

However, the most notable revamping of campus security followed the shooting of a CWRU undergraduate student in Nov. 2018.

The effects were near immediate: a press conference held by President Barbara Snyder to discuss campus safety, increased security around campus, more Safe Rides and, of course, more notifications from the campus safety alert system, Rave. 

These safety alerts also changed in tone. The era of “this event occurred off campus” was over, and replaced by frequent orders to shelter in place until further notice. A wider breadth of incidents were reported, from assault, to theft, to gunshots, to traffic—CWRU students received information on any and all relevant incidents. 

And now, in 2019, we receive CWRU alerts frequently enough to make knee-jerk memes about them. But even under the jokes, there is still a new sense of concern. The uptick in security alerts has left students, parents and faculty alike feeling confused as to how safe University Circle is. 

Cleveland has seldom claimed to be a “safe” city; rated to be safer than only two percent of other U.S. cities, Cleveland’s reputation precedes it. However, CWRU campus is perceived to be a relatively safe pocket of the city. Tour guides will tell you that they feel safe walking around on campus, CWRU police presence is high and late night shuttles and Safe Rides are all options for students heading home later in the day.

And yet, the frequency of security alerts during the past year has been enough to coerce my dad to jokingly suggest that I not come back this year because “the crime rate is getting so high on campus.”

This raises the question: is there actually more crime in University Circle these days, and are the crimes getting more serious? Or does it just seem that way now that we hear about it?

Looking at the CWRU Police Department’s annual security reports, the crime rate on campus has held relatively stable for the past few years. With 20 crimes in 2015, 27 in 2016 and 13 in 2017, most incidents involve burglary. In 2016 there were six robberies, whereas 2015 and 2017 had one and two respectively.

Although the compiled data from 2018 and 2019 is not yet available, many of the archived crime logs following the shooting incident are more of the same, and at similar frequencies: underage drinking, petty theft and an armed incident here and there. While the frequency of CWRU alerts has drastically risen, the seriousness of crimes has not encountered such an increase.

Crime has always existed in University Circle—we just did not hear about it as much. Now that we do hear about it, we are on edge constantly. 

So, the answer to the question of crime is that there is no definitive answer. Crime around CWRU has, in past years, been a scenario in which ignorance is bliss. However, with heightened crime reporting as requested in the wake of recent, more serious incidents, we are getting a clear look at the reality of crime in the city. 

We now get the level of security alerting we should have been receiving from the start, but it must be said that it has its consequences on our consciousnesses.  

Sarah Taekman is a fourth-year pre-medical student studying origins sciences. She is so, so old.