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OSU Crime Rate Debated

Ohio State University officials issued the fifth crime alert of the year after a March fifth incident just off campus. Student was robbed of her purse on High Street around 2 a.m. Only a few hours before, two women were attacked on campus; one lost her purse, the other struggled with one of two males. OSU's proximity to urban Columbus is one reason students may fall victim to crime. There's an on-going debate about how safe the campus really is.

Sarah Pyles and Aja Smithey are just leaving Ohio State's main library on an unusually windy and warm winter day. The two say they have mixed feelings about their safety on campus.

"I'm only on campus during the day but I feel safe walking where I need to go," says Pyles.

"But after it gets dark out, you get scared cause you don't know. I usually try to stick right by my bus stop and walk in groups, I don't walk alone," Smithey says.

Another student said she never walked east of High Street; one said she avoided South campus. On the other hand, several students said they were not concerned at all. Ohio State's more than 50,000 students statistically don't run much risk of becoming victims. Car and dorm break-ins account for about 85% of on-campus incidents, according to the university's assistant police chief. Rick Amweg says robbery, assault and rape occur much less frequently - averaging from 3% to 6%. That's about 85 to 100 incidents annually. While those numbers are not acceptable, Amweg says the crime rate remains stable.

"Crime on the campus, in which university police can take some affirmative action is not going up, it's remaining just about the same," Amweg says.

But the campus community extends well beyond the university's boundaries. The OSU police department only has jurisdiction over university-owned property. A lot of the adjacent territory - where many students live and work - is patrolled mostly by Columbus police. City police Sergeant Jay Hammer was introduced to the 4th precinct in the late 1970's when he came to OSU as a student. With more than 2 decades in Columbus police work, Hammer says anecdotal evidence suggests that the university and the surrounding neighborhoods are a magnet for crime.

"We've talked to some criminals who say they'll come to campus specifically because they know there are high-end items they can find in cars. There are nice cars they can find and there's good stuff inside the houses once they break in," Hammer says.

As a student, Hammer had been through several break-ins by the time he graduated in 1982. His greatest heartache came when his '72 Ford Maverick was stolen. But he says friends and relatives had it worse - one, he says, was raped. Today's environment, according to Hammer, is not much different. People unconnected with the university still drift across campus. And he says the area's aging houses and buildings weren't designed for the realities of today's society.

"The whole transients of the area; generally the buildings are the same as when I was there 20 or 25 years ago, the roads are the same. The dark alleys, the ability to go in between buildings for blocks on end are all the same," he says.

OSU's assistant police chief Rick Amweg says his 50 officers do better than an adequate job protecting the more than 100,000 people on campus during an average day. Amweg says the university will continue to team up with Columbus police along High Street trying to stop crime before it starts.

The Fotinos family from Westlake was walking north on High Street toward campus yesterday; daughter Reyna will soon be a student. Maria Fotinos says she's talked to her daughter about how to stay safe - and, she says, she is not worried.

Reyna Fotinos will still be reminded about personal safety when she attends student orientation. That's something Sergeant Hammer says was missing when he was a student.