Last week, an armed robbery occurred in Athens, Ohio, near the campus of Ohio University. The school responded by canceling classes for the day, calling off the men’s basketball game scheduled for that evening, sending non-essential employees home and advising students to stay in their residences.
This incident stands in stark contrast to the reaction toward armed crimes at Saint Louis University. Certainly St. Louis is no Athens, and students must accept that crime is a reality in any urban area. But the recent slew of robberies near campus begs the question: Have SLU students and even administrators become too desensitized to local crime?
Within a week, two students were robbed at gunpoint in two separate incidents in virtually the same location, on Lindell Boulevard near the Coronado Place apartment complex. Another attempted robbery, this one perpetrated by two unarmed subjects, occurred near the Olive/Compton Garage a few days later.
There is no doubt that the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the St. Louis Police Department are doing their best to prevent and respond to such incidents, and, in fact, police arrested a suspect last week in connection with the first two robberies.
And yet these crimes near our campus may be cause to reconsider SLU’s approach to public safety. It seems that just about every semester, a SLU matriculant gets mugged or a Billiken gets burglarized, and the university community is willing accept the isolated incident as something that is simply statistically likely in a big city.
Statistics are all well and good until you become one. Robberies may be bound to happen, but they shouldn’t be brushed off as business at usual, especially when they occur so close to campus. Two robberies in a week are a statistical anomaly, but it shouldn’t take anomalies to initiate action among our administrators.
Statistics aside, the first robbery by the Coronado was striking for several reasons. First, it occurred in an area that most students consider perfectly safe. Lindell Boulevard is a fairly busy road; there are nearly always other pedestrians or cars in sight at the intersection with Spring Street. Besides, large numbers of students live in apartments along that block, and dozens of churchgoers leaving Mass passed the area minutes after the incident. Moreover, the robbery occurred at 10 p.m., an early hour by a college student’s clock.
For this reason, the robbery could have been considered a freak incident, a one-off oddity. Until lightning struck twice, six days later.
DPSEP does a good job of notifying students about crime near campus via their email alerts. But they also need to send a message to any potential criminals in the area. Whenever something happens this close to campus, DPSEP should make it publicly and patently clear that they are stepping up security around SLU. Otherwise, there is a risk that word of one criminal’s success will spread, setting off a spree of criminal strikes around SLU, as may have been the case with the recent robberies.
The advice DPSEP sends in its emails may be helpful, but it’s not enough to make students feel safe. No matter how vigilant you are, no matter how confidently you walk, you probably won’t deter someone who has visited our campus for the sole purpose of robbing a student at gunpoint. And even if you do, you’ll only make them defer their strike until another student walks by who lacks your intimidating swagger.
Seniors at SLU have heard their share of St. Louis horror stories. There have been many tragic incidents in the past few years, but it’s probably safe to say that many students never felt unsafe at the school they call home until this year. Clearly DPSEP cannot do everything, and undoubtedly they do the best they can. But when an incident occurs, they must do something, even if it’s just a “show of force” of sorts, in order to deter repeat criminals and reassure students. Otherwise, students and their parents may believe that the safe, sound “SLU Bubble” has burst—and not even stellar statistics will suffice to make them stay.