The Heights of Fear
UB takes hands-off attitude in South Campus neighborhood, students suffer consequences
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 00:02
University Police can only intercede if Buffalo Police asks for help or if a UPD officer witnesses a crime, according to Gates. UPD Chief Gerald Schoenle said BPD calls for help three to four times a month.
Students who live in the area insist they don’t feel comfortable in their neighborhood. Fifty-four percent of 787 students polled by The Spectrum said they feel unsafe when they’re in the Heights. Some residents admittedly like the autonomy of knowing no one is checking on them – not parents or police. Fraternities – some legal, some illegal – have houses in the Heights and there is an abundant party scene.
Still, for some students, dangerous living conditions are significantly affecting their university experience.
“Living in the Heights has affected my experience at UB negatively,” said *Taylor Brundage, a senior English major. “While living there, I struggled to get my work and life, in general, under control.”
On March 28 at 1:30 a.m., Brundage was sitting in her living room on Winspear Avenue doing homework when two young men – also Heights residents – broke into her house looking for her roommate and pointed a loaded rifle at her and her friend. Afterward, she could no longer sleep and became so scared her doctors diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder. She left UB for a month and saw a counselor in her Rockland County hometown.
On Nov. 10, in three separate crimes, UB student Mitchell Staunch and his friend were mugged and beaten, another student was held at knifepoint and three female students were assaulted.
Staunch, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said a man approached him on the street, asked him to empty his pockets and punched him in the jaw when he refused. He hit his head on the pavement and was knocked unconscious. While he was out, his attackers picked his pockets and stole his cell phone, $42 in cash, his debit card, ATM card, UB ID and driver’s license.
“I was really angry because they took a lot of money and stuff,” Staunch said. “I hated the world. I hated some people after that and I was really surprised that it happened because it never happened to me before. And there was no reason because I didn’t do anything to them.”
Six days later, a freshman engineering major (who asked to remain anonymous) was walking to a bus stop on Winspear with two friends in the early morning when a man pulled out a gun and asked for money.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Bryan Bergstol, a junior communication major, and his four UB student roommates left their West Northrup home for the holidays. When they returned Sunday, they found every door of their house smashed in and many of their valuables gone.
Black, whose office oversees both student residences and public safety, said there was nothing UB could do for Bergstol or his roommates.
“I’m sure there were, on that same day, 200,000 robberies across New York State and 2 million across the country,” Black said. “That’s not something I’m proud of, but the fact is, that happens.”
The burglary at Bergstol’s home, however, wasn’t simply one of 200,000 in New York State. The same house, when occupied by different tenants, was broken into over Thanksgiving break in 2011.
Burglars surmise where students live, said Dan Ryan, director of Off-Campus Student Relations. And they target their homes when they are away on school breaks, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break.
BPD does not increase its patrols of the Heights during those breaks and campus police does not patrol at all. The only recent action taken to warn students about holiday break-ins occurred in Dec. 2012, when Ryan sent an email to students living in the Heights and told them to lock their homes and valuables.
Three Heights homes were burglarized over that winter break.
On Jan. 18, a 20-year-old was shot in the lower leg in a drive-by shooting in broad daylight on Minnesota Avenue.
BPD upped its Main Street patrols on the weekends two years ago, but E-District Chief Kimberly Beaty, whose district includes the Heights, refused to tell The Spectrum why.
Despite the increased patrols, in the past two years, there has been a 44 percent increase in assaults, 21 percent increase in vehicle theft, 13 percent increase in robberies and 3 percent increase in larcenies in the Heights.
Community members don’t understand why campus police doesn’t step in to help.
What have other universities done to remedy off-campus crime?
Rosline Righetti has lived in the same house on Merrimac Street for 57 years. In the past five years, she’s become so tired of crime that she has installed eight cameras around her home.
“I feel bad for the kids here,” Righetti said. “They come to school and they’re being subjected to the robberies and the rapes.” She said she’s seen cars broken into, tires slashed and air conditioners in windows broken to get into homes.
For Righetti, the answer is simple: Give UPD jurisdiction in the Heights.
That is not something UB has tried, Black said. The university has never pushed for its campus police to have jurisdiction to protect students off campus.
Ohio State did.
On Sept. 19, Ohio State University and the City of Columbus agreed on joint jurisdiction that gives campus police the right to patrol in the inner city of Columbus, where many students live.
In the first two months the plan was implemented, violent crime dropped 5 percent from the past 10 years, said OSU Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp.
Stepp made increased campus police presence his focal point when elected president in April. His true focus is on violent crimes, he said.
“I was not comfortable being in a situation where we were OK with any students getting mugged off campus or held at gunpoint or robbed,” Stepp said. “So our job isn’t done until we can make that armed assault number zero at Ohio State.”