Though some Ohio State students say they feel unsafe in the off-campus area, a few OSU officials have said the university is doing all it can to promote safety in those neighborhoods.
Interim President Joseph Alutto said the threat comes with the location of OSU’s campus.
“This is a big urban cosmopolitan area with all the vibrancy that goes with it but then all the risks as well,” Alutto said in an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23. “This is an urban university … It’s about as safe as we can make it.”
Alutto said OSU works closely with police to make sure there is as much coverage as possible in the off-campus neighborhoods through an agreement Fall Semester 2012 that gave University Police and Columbus Division of Police joint jurisdiction in the off-campus area. OSU has also reached out to Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman for help.
“Mayor Coleman has been incredibly supportive of this university and is open to suggestions. Those conversations take place all the time,” Alutto said. “We’re certainly doing everything we can.”
A house of 15 people in OSU’s off-campus area discovered Aug. 30 there had been a man secretly living in their basement, causing some students to express concerns about the safety of off-campus housing. The students, who live on 13th Avenue, thought a locked door in the basement led to a utility closet. When one of the house’s residents opened the door, they found a bedroom complete with framed photographs and textbooks. Since then, the locks were changed by the leasing company, NorthSteppe Realty.
There have also been two armed robberies reported at a Huntington Bank branch located on 11th Avenue on OSU’s campus that prompted University Police to issue public safety notices, as well as two off-campus armed home robberies and one on-campus armed robbery that led to public safety notices.
Despite the university’s efforts to promote safety in off-campus neighborhoods, Alutto said students must do their part, too, because OSU cannot “protect against everything.”
“We just ask students to be careful about what they do, where they live, when they’re out on the streets, which is what you would say in any urban environment,” Alutto said.
Like Alutto, Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz said he is concerned about off-campus safety — not only with regard to street crime, but also about landlords ensuring quality residences to their student tenants, during an interview with The Lantern Oct. 8.
“As an institution, what we have to do is pressure the responsibility in the landlords in ways that we can,” Steinmetz said.
This pressure will come once the construction of second-year housing on campus is complete, giving students better options of where to live, Steinmetz said.
The projects — the North Residential District Transformation and South Campus High Rise Renovation and Addition Project — are scheduled to be complete by Fall 2016, when OSU plans to require second-year students to live in OSU housing.
Mike Groeniger, an off-campus landlord with G.A.S. Properties, said he considers off-campus neighborhoods to be mostly safe.
Groeniger said he often sees locals in the area who he believes commit reoccurring crimes.
“I’ve been down here for about six years now and I see the same homeless type-of-guy always walking around by our office, always in the area,” Groeniger said. “Every day I see him with a brand new bike, and it just drives me crazy.”
Groeniger said OSU has never reached out to him regarding crime prevention in the off-campus area.
Even so, Groeniger said he helps his tenants stay safe by providing lighting in parking areas around his properties and ensuring locks are intact on all doors on his properties.
Groeniger said he advises students to do their part to stay safe as well by reaching out to their landlords whenever they have a concern.
“Be observant and don’t be scared to make a phone call to the landlord even if it you think it’s something very little, it’s always something that’s worth looking into,” he said.
Sam Phillips, a third-year in chemical engineering and a resident of the off-campus community south of campus, said she doesn’t think the off-campus neighborhoods are safe.
“I’ve heard about a lot of people getting their phones and wallets stolen over there (north and east off-campus neighborhoods) and I really haven’t heard anything about down where I live,” Phillips said.
Even so, Phillips said her landlord is attentive to her safety concerns.
“(My landlord) actually installed an extra lock on our door when we asked them to and also we have a really big light on the front of our apartment that makes me feel safe,” Phillips said.
Phillips said she would like to see the university install more campus emergency blue lights, which are located around OSU’s campus and have phones providing a direct line to University Police in case of an emergency, in the off-campus area. “I think it would be cool if (OSU) put more of those blue safety lights off-campus, because it’s great to have them on campus, but that’s not where you’re going to be attacked,” she said.
Phillips also said she would like there to be better street lighting around the sidewalks and buildings to help her feel safer during her walks home.
Shannon Drennan, a second-year in health sciences who lives in a sorority house on 14th Avenue, said she doesn’t think off-campus is particularly safe either.
“I just feel like I can never walk by myself anywhere as a female,” Drennan said. “I try to use the buddy-system and Student Safety Service — I call that for rides a lot.”
Student Safety Service is a public safety program that reports criminal activity in the campus area and provides rides for students.
OSU students can get involved in making campus safer as well through Buckeye Block Watch, an effort of the Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement and the Community Ambassador program to increase safety in off-campus neighborhoods.
“Many students do not take proper safety precautions, therefore BBW reminds students the importance of personal safety and how to be safe in their environment,” Hannah Mlnarik, co-director of Community Ambassadors, said in an email.
Community Ambassadors is a program that gathers OSU students to work on building community and distributing safety information in off-campus areas.
Mlnarik said she encourages students to “say something if they see something” out of the ordinary in the off-campus area.
“In addition to reporting street lighting, reduce your risk by carrying only what you need, report graffiti, don’t walk alone and be observant,” Mlnarik said. “Messages like these seem like common sense but with all the recent crime and accidents, it’s time we pushed these reminders.”
Buckeye Block Watch is not a student organization through OSU, Mlnarik said. Students primarily participate by hanging Buckeye Block Watch placards, available at Buckeye Block Watch events and the organization’s office at the Ohio Union, in their residential windows to create a sense of community and unity.
“Criminals and thieves are less likely to attack when it becomes clear that we are watching this block,” Mlnarik said.