Grad students see less off-campus crime

Michael Jones ’12 heard a rustling in the blinds in his Sigma Phi Epsilon room Tuesday night. When he turned, he saw a man climbing through his window. Yelling that he would call the police, Jones scared the man off, but later found an knife and some of his housemate’s property — including checkbooks — lying in his backyard.

As a vehicle pulled up early last Friday morning to the corner of York and Crown streets — one block from the School of Architecture and the Yale University Art Gallery — a passenger leaned out of the window and fired a shot into the side of another car.

A stolen car was driven down Edgewood Avenue on Wednesday evening, chased by New Haven Police Department cruisers. The thieves pulled the car into a driveway of student off-campus housing at 52 Edgewood, crashed into a brick wall and ran off in different directions.

These incidents, all in the past week, represent a slice of the type of crimes that are unheard of on campus, but that strike areas just a few blocks away where off-campus Yalies live. Though Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said that Yale’s campus and the surrounding student residential areas record some of the lowest crime statistics for urban areas in the country, off-campus students — and especially graduate students, the majority of who live off campus — do occasionally experience some of the crime that is more typical of New Haven’s more crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Indeed, some graduate students who have been victims of crime say their experiences are not the same as those of Yale College students.

“Graduate students don’t live in residential colleges or walk around highly trafficked roads and streets all the time,” said Yoni Cohen LAW ’12, who was mugged last October. “I probably spend more time walking around downtown in the evening than most undergraduates.”

City neighborhoods such as the Hill, Dixwell and Newhallville post some of the highest crime rates in the city, and all abut residential Yale communities. Despite this proximity, Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins says there is no evidence that residents living in off-campus neighborhoods experience more crime than those who live on campus.

The YPD recorded 277 overall criminal incidents last year in its 2010 Uniform Crime Report, well below 2009’s 393 incidents, and the lowest overall crime rate in 20 years, according to Higgins and Lindner. Lindner added that data shows criminal incidents are steadily decreasing in the off-campus areas immediately adjacent to campus.

That statistic bodes well for crime situation, but offers little comfort to graduate students who have repeatedly been the victims of crimes during their stays in the Elm City.

Lisa Levy DIV ’12 said that since moving to New Haven roughly three years ago, she has been mugged on Dwight Street, her house on Whitney Avenue has been broken into and her car was stolen. Although Levy characterized herself as an “unlucky” outlier, she said she thinks Yale administrators downplay New Haven’s crime rate.

“I’ve lived in high-crime areas in Houston, Tex., and Syracuse, N.Y., before and have never had a problem with crime,” Levy said. “I do think New Haven is a bit different, but I know there is only so much administrators can do.” She added that YPD officers were helpful when her car was stolen.

Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Lisa Brandes GRD ’94 said she more often hears graduate students complain of petty theft — such as having a bike or laptop stolen — than violent crimes. Still, she said she cautions graduate students to walk in pairs and use shuttles, especially when walking in higher-crime areas such as the downtown area.

“Graduate students tend to live in more diverse housing areas than undergraduates,” Brandes said to explain why graduate students tend to experience crime more often than their counterparts in Yale College. “But obviously walking around alone at 2 a.m. is not good for anybody.”

Still, she added that she believes most graduate student neighborhoods are safer now than when she was a Yale graduate student roughly two decades ago.

Higgins said campus crime has declined over the years thanks to the high funding levels the University offers the police department.

“I’d like to see another city that puts as many resources into public safety as Yale University does,” Higgins said. “The efforts the University has made to make Yale a safe place is really top shelf.”

Still, crimes, sometimes serious, are occurring off campus, and Higgins said the YPD tries to identify problem areas and respond accordingly as soon as possible.

The evening after the potentially armed burglary at Sigma Phi Epsilon, YPD officers and Higgins himself spent about an hour canvassing the neighborhood and talking to residents near the High Street “Frat Row.”

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