The other day my friend suggested we drive to Downtown LA. In response, I handed him a list of the top five things I’d rather do than drive through LA traffic, which included watching The Oprah Winfrey Show, eating at Arby’s and watching UCLA beat USC in football. Needless to say, I think I got my point across about being a motorist in LA. Now thanks to LAPD, I get to experience that same thrill on my bicycle.
LAPD’s justification for citing bicyclists for riding through crosswalks is that they’re motorists, too. A $250 max citation leads me to believe otherwise. Regardless, we can all live with LAPD citing us for traffic offenses on bikes — it is apparently one more measure in improving safety around campus, a familiar gripe among USC detractors. What few realize, however, is that the university does not suffer from the same crime infestation it has in the past.
According to USC’s most recent Annual Security Report, crime rates around the University Park campus have decreased from 223 offenses in 2005 and 243 in 2006 to a significantly lower 168 reported crimes in 2007. It is worth noting about 60 percent of all crimes reported are either robberies or burglaries, meaning criminals are more often than not after someone’s property and not necessarily his well-being.
Furthermore, arrests have risen from just 19 a year ago to 41 this year, contributing to the crackdown on local crime over the past few years. Give credit to DPS and its joint operations with LAPD (excluding bicycle citations) for this comforting news. Extensive DPS surveillance, neighborhood outreach programs and increased student awareness — along with trams, Campus Cruiser and safety fairs — have also combined to improve conditions.
Westwood, often lauded as safer than USC, actually has a higher crime rate. The Jeanne Clery Crime Statistics Report for UCLA revealed 281 criminal offenses in 2007 along with 76 arrests. Those figures were consistent with the university’s 2006 report of 272 crimes and 2005 report of 327 crimes. It is also worth noting that about 75 percent of reported criminal offenses from 2005 to 2007 were burglaries and robberies.
Though UCLA’s student population is about 6,000 students denser, the per capita crime rate for 2007 was virtually equal with USC’s, meaning the safer UCLA campus stereotype doesn’t seem to hold water anymore.
Unfortunately, the small wave of high-profile crime has overshadowed USC’s efforts to rid itself of the bad reputation carried by South Los Angeles.
The tragic death last year of a USC student dominated headlines in addition to the gunshot wounds suffered by a track star, highlighting the dangers still present in our neighborhood. Visitors often cite these incidents when they take trips to USC.
Yet, few can cite the laboratory accident at UCLA that killed graduate student Sheri Sangji last year. Sangji was extracting a small quantity of volatile t-butyl lithium when the compound ignited. She died from severe burns 18 days later.
The accident screamed of negligence. Two months prior, safety inspectors reported more than a dozen violations in the chemistry lab where the incident occurred. Corrective measures were to be taken by Dec. 5. By Dec. 29, the day of the accident, no action had been taken. UCLA is under scrutiny for the preventable accident, but, outside of laboratories, the incident is rarely mentioned.
Preconceived notions about USC, however, make crime higher profile whenever it’s associated with our neighborhood as opposed to Westwood. In response to concerns, USC has hired 22 Contemporary Services Corporation security personnel to watch over the campus until 4 a.m., hoping that students will feel more secure when they’re off campus. It’s certainly reassuring to see the yellow jackets when you’re walking home at 2 a.m., but at the same time, it is a little disheartening when their employment price is considered. Though DPS refuses to reveal the cost, officials have admitted that it’s a significant amount, money that certainly could have been allocated elsewhere — such as financial aid.
The fact remains, our neighborhood has improved drastically over the years. Just as USC’s old reputation as a commuter school is fading, misconceptions about USC’s community should fade along with it. But old stereotypes die hard and USC may always be portrayed as the University of South Central.
Robert Fragoza is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. His column, “Reality Check,” runs Fridays.