When police officers found Xinran Ji, a 24-year-old student, dead at his home in City Park Apartments last month, it was the third high-profile violent incident to occur on or around the University Park Campus in fewer than three years.
Ji, a second-year graduate student studying electrical engineering, had been studying the night before. Ji was walking home in the early morning, at 12:45 a.m., when police believe he was attacked with a baseball bat during an attempted robbery. After the assault, the international student from China staggered back to his apartment, where he was later discovered by his roommate.
Following two high-profile incidents in 2012 — the off-campus slaying of two Chinese students in April and a non-fatal on-campus shooting in October of that year — the incident has recast a spotlight on USC’s safety program.
In the weeks following the assault, an online petition calling for more security year-round, as well stricter monitoring of the cameras installed around University Park campus, had received more than 1,700 signatures.
The incident left the school’s Chinese community, still recovering from the losses of Ming Qu and Ying Wu, who were murdered in 2012 while sitting in a car off-campus, particularly on edge.
In response, USC announced several new security measures on Aug. 8 geared toward educating international students on safety procedures and reconciling differences in security during school year and during the summer, when fewer students are on or around campus.
“It’s an ongoing process for safety measurements like that,” said Yuanzi Xie, a public administration graduate student who helped set up the petition. “But it is good to see the quick response from [the Dept. of Public Safety] and the university.”
Because emergency calls slow down in the summer, DPS has not contracted additional off-campus security in the past, as it does during the school year, said DPS Deputy Chief David Carlisle.
“That has already changed,” he said.
Other changes include an increase in nighttime patrols, enhanced analytics for video camera monitoring, the speeding up of the rollout of a mobile safety app and the expansion of Campus Cruiser coverage, which will bring wait times to 15 minutes or less.
Undergraduate Student Government President Andrew Menard said he believes security was not adequate at the time of the incident. Menard has spent two summers at USC and feels that security during the break should be the same as during the school year.
“For the most part, in the summer, people have felt safe,” Menard said. “When something like this happens, it just goes to show that you never can predict what’s going to happen. And you always have to be ready and you can never get complacent.”
According to Jeff Zisner, head of Los Angeles-based firm AEGIS Security & Investigations, it’s not uncommon for security to reduce its operations based on circumstantial considerations, such as time of day or year.
“[For] every business that uses security, their daytime security team is going to be significantly larger than their nighttime security team,” Zisner said.
He noted that USC’s public safety program is “relatively robust” and said it could best be improved through greater awareness and education.
As part of the upgrades USC announced in early August, the university is in fact doubling down on safety training for students. Beginning this fall, the university will require “extended safety education” for its nearly 8,000 international students — 40 percent of which are Chinese.
Xu Yuan, a graduate student and president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said the training presents an opportunity to address cultural differences between the United States and China. For instance, he said Chinese students might come to the United States with the false expectation that urban cities are safe late at night.
“Chinese students don’t know,” he said. “It’s a different culture.”
By 2015, the university plans to mandate continuing safety education for all students.
“We have more students and citizens than we have police,” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry said in an interview. “We really want to build a culture of bystander responsibility and shared responsibility.”
He stressed the importance of reporting even minor incidents, noting that the data improves DPS’s ability to make strategic choices about where to deploy its resources.
USC’s action is not the first occasion on which the security has increased on or around the university following a high-profile violent crime. After the murders of Qu and Wu, LAPD added 30 police officers and a detective to the division that includes USC. The university also added security cameras and expanded its area of coverage. In November 2012, following a non-fatal shooting outside an on-campus Halloween party, the university restricted access to campus after 9 p.m.
The enhancements have been effective in reducing crime, Carry said, pointing to a fence along the campus perimeter that has significantly decreased bike theft. Carry said the university must balance new measures with the effect on student life, but that public safety considerations typically outweigh such costs.
“There are some random things that are going to happen that we can’t prevent and can’t predict,” he said. “But I think our conversation about balance is always trumped with [whether new security] will help save a student’s life.”
Some continue to worry, however, that even with the upgrades, USC is sending the wrong impression about safety in the university’s surrounding areas. The parents of Qu and Wu, who filed a wrongful death suit that was later dismissed in court, have urged their government to issue a safety warning to Chinese parents, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“USC needs to be truthful to the reality that the surrounding area is just not safe,” Daniel Deng, a lawyer serving as a voluntary spokesman for the parents, told the L.A. Times after the new measures were announced.
Deng did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Despite the high-profile incidents, DPS reports that crime on campus is trending down.
“We feel our security measures were a significant factor in that decline,” Carlisle said in an email. “But the decline is completely overshadowed by the loss of our student.”
Xie, who helped create the petition, said he was more concerned about the university’s emotional response to Ji’s passing than any discussion about security. About USC’s memorial for Ji, he said the verbal translation from English to Chinese was “unprofessional” and riddled with mistakes that included the pronunciation of Ji’s name.
“We have communicated to the family our deep regrets for the translation,” Carry said. “The challenge with the entire scenario was people were working under extreme conditions during those days.”
Since the family was available for only two days, he said much of the service had to be planned in one day. Carry also said that the translator did not receive an advance copy of the memorial speeches and had to translate on the spot.
“I think those who were disappointed by the delivery are well within their rights,” he said. “If I were sitting in their seat, I would have a similar reaction to that.”
The most recent security measures came from discussions with law enforcement, parents, alumni and Chinese student organizations.
“We looked at everything that we had in place and said, ‘How do we enhance it, how do we take it to the next level?’ That was our primary evaluation,” Carry said.
Yuan, the president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, met twice with administrators before the improvements were announced. He said he felt officials genuinely wanted to hear from students. Still, he warned that it’s too soon to determine whether the new security upgrades will work.
“Time will tell whether the campus is safer or not,” Yuan said.