Crime increase changes habits

Last week, Marc Appel ’08 did something he has never done before: he called his parents at two in the morning. Appel was not trying to start a new habit of late night chats with Mom and Dad; he was calling for his safety, so that as he walked back alone to his room in Ezra Stiles, someone would know where he was.

“My dad wants me to transfer to Princeton,” Appel said. “He doesn’t want me to be here because of the crime.”

Appel is not the only student who has developed new habits following the recent increase in crime around campus. A series of highly publicized robberies and shootings has compelled many students to take new precautions as they make their nightly treks home from parties, libraries or Science Hill laboratories. Still, the effect of the crime wave on students’ lives is not uniform. While almost everyone on campus is at least aware of the potential dangers in New Haven, student reactions to city crime range from fear to apathy to a drive to create change in the community.

The increase in crime has posed significant concerns for at least some Yale students. Appel said he feels much less safe walking the streets than he did last year, especially alone.

“It makes me not want to be at the library until two in the morning,” he said. “I try to get back to my room earlier because you never know when you’re going to get mugged.”

When he does stay out late, Appel no longer carries his wallet. He said he is particularly concerned about the increase in crimes involving guns, and is thinking about carrying some “mugger money” so that if he gets held up, he can just hand the money over and walk away.

Many students said they have changed their mode of late-night transportation in response to the recent crimes. If Hassan Siddiq ’08 is heading back to his suite in Swing Space alone, he said he either takes the minibus or he runs. He said the area around Swing Space is particularly unprotected, and if he were just to walk there, he would fear for his safety.

Even if they are not all running, many students are changing the way they get around campus. John K., the lead officer at the dispatch center for security escort services like 2-Walk, who declined to provide his last name, said he has seen an “across the board” increase in requests for escorts this year. On weekdays, he said, the security officers will escort in excess of 75 people, about half Yale employees and half students. Sarajane Williams ’09 said she uses 2-Walk as many as five nights a week, and sees it as a practical solution to her concerns about life in an urban setting.

“I just don’t see the point of walking alone at night when you can be driven,” Williams said. “I think the reason things are happening is because people aren’t thinking.”

Williams said she thinks male students especially should be more aware of the dangers of living in a city. While she said she considers males to be less of a target for night crimes like rape, muggings remain gender neutral, she said.

Some students said they think males are more likely to be targets of crimes. Mimi Wang ’09 said common social practices put male students at risk.

“I think it’s easy being a girl because guys will tend to walk you back places and walk away alone,” Wang said.

Some students said they have not been as fundamentally shaken by the recent upswing in area crime, but still keep its lessons in mind. Rather than seeing the recent crimes as a dramatic decrease in safety around campus, these students said they view them as a reminder that New Haven is and always has been a place where they should be cautious and aware of their surroundings.

“It’s just a few crimes,” Phillip Clopton ’08 said. “Just because they were more spread out last year or didn’t get reported as much as they are this year doesn’t mean they’re any more important.”

To some, the increased crime is not a reason to change either their habits or their outlook on living in New Haven. While Jennifer Paton ’07 said she is thinking about purchasing a new can of pepper spray like the one she used to carry, she is not “running out to the store to buy one.” In general, Paton said, people are not reacting strongly to the crimes — even as their inboxes continue to receive new e-mails from Yale Police Chief James Perrotti.

“You see the e-mail and you think, ‘Oh the world is falling apart,’ and then you forget about it,” Paton said.

While Paton’s observation may be true for some students, a growing number are taking initiative to halt the increase in crime. Ward 1 Aldermanic candidate Nick Shalek ’05 sent students an e-mail earlier this week containing a petition to Yale President Richard Levin in which he asked for a renewed focus on campus security. In the first night the e-mail was sent out, Shalek said more than 500 students signed the letter.

Although not all students are becoming as directly involved in solving the crime problem as Shalek, most said they are not letting security problems affect their Yale experience. Jennifer Cohen ’09 said that, for her part, crime is a factor of Yale’s urban campus that she is willing to deal with.

“I chose to come to a city school,” she said. “I knew the disadvantages, but the advantages outweighed them.”

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