The west side — in the area bounded by Vermont and Normandie avenues, student presence has grown significantly in recent years, but the university’s presence has not grown to match.
Though Campus Cruiser operates in the neighborhoods west of campus and the Dept. of Public Safety patrols the streets, “yellow jacket” security ambassadors or cameras that provide an extra set of eyes in other areas near USC are noticeably absent.
That’s all about to change.
President C. L. Max Nikias told the Daily Trojan last week that in the coming months the university will triple its off-campus security efforts, bringing security ambassadors and cameras to the west side for the first time.
“This is a major, major improvement,” Nikias said. “It’s been the university policy that we don’t want to go west of Vermont, but if our students are going over there — and I feel we can’t convince them not to — I felt it was very important to increase security.”
Forty-five regular cameras will be added to the 27 already in place, and the number of locations with cameras that can capture images of vehicle license plates will jump from five to 19. Fifteen of the regular cameras and 12 of the license plate cameras will be installed in the neighborhood west of USC. All 12 of the new security ambassadors will be stationed west of campus.
The university has not yet finalized a bid on the project, so final costs have not been determined, but Nikias estimated the price tag will be $3 million per year. He anticipates that the components will be in place by the start of the upcoming school year.
The initiative is a product of several years of conversations with students, faculty and staff, explained Charlie Lane, associate senior vice president for Career and Protective Services, but Nikias was the catalyst for effecting change.
“He challenged us to see what we could do and come up with more technology to reduce crime even further,” Lane said. “That was the genesis.”
Nikias was concerned about safety in part because students were concerned.
When students move off campus, most congregate north of campus, in the area between Jefferson and Adams. Many students avoid the west side, where lighting is sparse and rumors of crime are prevalent.
But rumors, DPS Chief Carey Drayton said, are often just that.
Though crime does occur on the west side, the numbers are not as high as students might think. According to daily DPS reports, no crime has been reported taking place west of campus this month.
Drayton said it’s all about perception.
“That perception is led by the fact that we have no university housing over there, so we don’t have the benefit of that university white light that we tend to put on the sides of our buildings that homeowners and renters don’t put on the side of theirs. We have the security ambassadors in other areas of the campus that we don’t have over there. We have a tram route everywhere else; we don’t have a tram route over there,” Drayton said. “So there are things that lend to that perception, but if you look at the numbers, those numbers don’t bare out that it’s so much more unsafe over there.”
Drayton noted, however, that for some, the numbers don’t matter.
“It doesn’t matter how many times I prove to you using numbers that it’s no more or less unsafe, if there’s one incident that you can point to, then it’s unsafe to you,” Drayton said.
For Amin El Gamal, a graduate student studying acting, that one incident occurred a year ago. He was walking back to his apartment on 37th Street when three teenagers approached him and asked for money. One of the teenagers brandished a knife, another a gun, and El Gamal’s cell phone was taken.
“In the scheme of muggings, it probably wasn’t that bad because I didn’t really give them anything of value except my phone which wasn’t worth anything,” he said. “But just that kind of assault — I was completely on edge. I felt really afraid.”
Despite being robbed, El Gamal said he enjoys living on 36th Street, where he lives now.
“The residents on the whole are really good people and it’s more quiet, and it’s a little bit more funky and has character,” El Gamal said.
Rick Jones, who has lived on Budlong Avenue for 10 years, said he also enjoys living in an area with both students and other residents, and said he would welcome USC’s additional security.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “It’s better for me, because I’ve got my kids, my family, my cars, my business.”
Lane and Drayton said the non-USC community has been brought into the conversation as the university plans this project. Overall, they said the feedback has been positive.
University officials have high hopes for the new security measures. Cameras have been successful crime deterrents at USC. In one instance, Drayton said, the number of robberies dropped from 22 to two after five cameras were installed in a location north of USC.
The security ambassadors provide students a sense of security and officials hope the combination of these strategies will continue to bring down the rate of crime not just west of campus, but all around USC.
“It certainly focuses on the west side of campus, but this is an all-campus initiative,” Lane said.
What do you think about the increased security efforts being put in place west of campus?
- I don't like it. The school's resources should be going to more important issues. (4%, 10 Votes)
- Neutral. I've never felt particularly safe or unsafe in that area. (6%, 17 Votes)
- I hate it. That area is outside of USC's jurisdiction and there's no need for increased security. (8%, 21 Votes)
- It's alright. It will be good all around for the community. (21%, 57 Votes)
- I love it! That area's always needed more security and it's about time it's put in place. (62%, 169 Votes)
Total Voters: 274