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Police Honored, Crime Down Overall

Community policing credited, but dorm theft persists

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University police officers and other honorees at the Fall Awards Ceremony October 15. Photo by Leslie Friday

When police officers gather, usually something is wrong.

But on the morning of October 15, it was not a crime scene that brought dozens of University police officers in navy blue uniforms to the common room on the 26th floor of Student Village 2. The officers were mingling and shaking hands next to a buffet of bagels, fresh fruit, and Starbucks coffee. This was a celebration.

The Boston University Police Department was hosting its Fall Awards Ceremony to honor heroic acts, from evacuating residents from a burning apartment building to preventing a robbery at President Emeritus John Silber’s home — and to thank others for their collaboration.

Silber expressed appreciation for University police officers he knows “better than I knew the faculty.”

They “make it a relatively civilized place in a world that is increasingly chaotic,” he said. Silber, who was president from 1971 to 1996 and chancellor from 1996 to 2003, recalled simpler days before his tenure, when University police were not armed. Officers now carry revolvers.

BU Police Chief Tom Robbins presented wooden plaques and shook the hands of the officers being honored. The formal ceremony was punctuated by inside jokes and jabs on height and style, demonstrating the family-like bond within the force.

Officers were recognized for single moments and quick reactions over the course of a long year:

Officer Diane Smith, for brandishing her revolver and halting a burglar trying to make off with money, heirlooms, and jewelry from Silber’s home during an attempted robbery in mid-March.

Officer William Campanella, who entered a burning apartment building at 6 Buswell St. to evacuate residents in late February. Five months later, he helped arrest a criminal who had stolen deposit bags from Espresso Royale.

Sergeant Patrick Nuzzi, who ordered an evacuation of Mugar Memorial Library after a bomb threat in May, and security guard Jongwook Hong, who helped capture an armed thief fleeing from Mugar days later.

Sergeant Jack St. Hilaire, for his quick action clearing SPLASH participants from a vendor cart when its propane gas tank burst into flames and later exploded in September.

Deputy Chief Scott Paré closed the ceremony, landing a last jab at his boss: “The chief will be available for pictures. He’ll be here for hours and hours, until 5 p.m.” Everyone laughed as officers clustered in pockets around the room finding family or chatting with colleagues before returning to work.

These are the easiest moments of the job. Others are reflected in rows of statistics — incidents of burglary, sex crimes, and alcohol violations faced on a daily basis around campus.

Total crime has decreased over the past three years around the University, dropping from 183 incidences on the Charles River and Medical Campuses in 2006 to 104 in 2007 to 94 in 2008, according to a recently released crime study by the BU Police.

Robbins, who became chief in 2006, attributes the decline to a change in policing strategy. Instead of regular patrols, officers are now assigned to specific areas of campus, where they are more visible and have greater interaction with the community. The chief also credits greater communication with the Boston Police Department with helping bring down crime levels.

Crime in the dorms
While overall campus crime has dropped, the number of reported incidences in residence halls has increased. Roughly 33 percent of crimes were committed in dormitories in 2006. One year later, that percentage jumped to 42 percent and then to 49 percent in 2008.

Robbins thinks these numbers prove his force is more in tune with the broader community, including dorms; it may be that more incidents are being reported rather than more crimes committed. “I think there’s more of an outreach in terms of information sharing and reporting,” he says.

Property theft is by far the largest problem BU officers see. In the past three years, burglary counted for 70 to 80 percent of the total.

“Our students have some great stuff that they bring to campus,” Robbins says, and when they’re not careful, that stuff becomes someone else’s. Bikes, iPhones, iPods, and laptops stream out of unlocked dorm rooms, or with a quick snip, disappear from bike racks and fences.

Sex-related crimes
The number of reported forcible sex offenses, including rape, has tripled in recent years, jumping from three in 2006 to nine per year in 2007 and 2008. Again, Robbins sees that number as a by-product of outreach to the University community rather than proof that the crime rate is increasing. The department encourages students to get needed medical and emotional assistance and assigns detectives trained in rape investigation.

While those investigations hopefully lead to arrests, Robbins says, “My mantra here is prevention.”

Alcohol and drug problems
Alcohol-related arrests on campus have fallen, from 34 in 2006 to 18 in 2008. Referrals to the University’s Judicial Affairs Office have also declined, from 478 in 2006 to 405 in 2008.

Drug arrests are down over the same period, but drug referrals to the JAO climbed slightly, from 30 in 2006 to 38 in 2008.

Some students are referred to Judicial Affairs after an alcohol or drug offense rather than being arrested. According to the University’s code of conduct, or Lifebook, first offenses on campus could carry a $100 fine and probation and require education or counseling. Second offenses could mean having to leave residence halls.

Off-campus violations carry the same sanction for first offenses, while second offenses could mean suspension.

Jarrod Clement, Judicial Affairs records coordinator, refers to the code as a loose set of guidelines. “We have always maintained that it needs to be a living document, interpretable,” he says. “You never know the specifics of the situation.”

Looking at the decline in overall incidents, Robbins isn’t sure whether students are drinking less or partying off campus more. He suspects the latter, because he has seen an increase in the number of students being transported to medical facilities after a bout of binge drinking.

“What we want to do is prevent a tragedy,” Robbins says, repeating his mantra. “That’s the whole point.”

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Police Honored, Crime Down Overall

  • Anonymous on 10.21.2009 at 1:07 pm

    Why weren’t there any doughnuts for them at the ceremony

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