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Fewer crimes against people reported during fall '99 semester

Becky Mabry, News Editor
(217) 244-1072

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Although fewer crimes against people occurred on the University of Illinois campus during the fall 1999 semester, police officials still are concerned about the numbers of aggravated assaults and batteries and robberies that put students in harm’s way.

UI police responded to 27 criminal reports of aggravated assaults and batteries in the campus reporting area in the fall, compared with 37 reports in 1998 and 45 in 1997, according to crime data statistics.  The campus reporting area extends to University Avenue on the north, Neil Street on the west, Windsor Road on the south and Race Street to the east. 

Similarly, the numbers of robberies fell to 17 – down from 26 in the fall of 1998.

“I’m pleased, but we still have significant problems with aggravated assaults and robberies,” said UI Police Chief Oliver J. Clark.  “And I think the people on this campus need to be reminded about the time of the day these crimes are occurring, and who the victims are.”

Victims of aggravated assaults are usually men between the ages of 18 and 20 out between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., Clark said.  The statistics show that more than half of the victims had been drinking when they were assaulted.  Slightly more than half of the assaults were made by acquaintances of the victims, according to the statistics.

Robbery victims also tend to be males out between 9 p.m. and midnight.  The vast majority of the robbers are strangers to the victims, and police have found that most robbers have no affiliation with the UI.  They seek out UI students, police said, because students often make themselves easy targets by walking alone in dark areas.

An unusual statistic from the fall crime reports is that the number of incidents of public indecency increased from three in 1998 to eight in 1999.  That could be the result of one or two men who continue to expose themselves from buildings located on the west side of the Quad, according to Capt. Kris Fitzpatrick of the UI police.  One suspect who has exposed himself from windows at Lincoln and Gregory halls pulls shades down to conceal his face, she said.  It has been difficult to catch the suspects, Fitzpatrick said, in part because the victims frequently don’t report the incidents until hours or days after it happened.

“Sometimes someone will see a report in the newspaper and then call us and say “You know, the same thing happened to me a week ago,’ ” she said.

Victims should call the police immediately so that police can search the buildings and catch the man, Clark said.

“Witnesses should use the emergency phones on the Quad,” Fitzpatrick said.  “The majority of our incidents are happening in the Quad area.”

As for criminal sexual assaults, those numbers are down to six from 10 the previous fall, but Fitzpatrick said those statistics are not reliable because criminal sexual assaults are the most under-reported crime on campus.

A good indication of how under-reported those crimes are is that between 130 and 150 students seek assistance for sexual assault from the UI Office of Women’s Programs each year, said Patricia Morey, assistant dean of students.

“Not all those assaults occurred on campus – but the majority of them were incidents that occurred here, while they were students on campus,” Morey said.

She said the women’s program office doesn’t keep statistics on whether alcohol was involved in those assaults, but she estimates that between 60 to 75 percent of one or both parties were intoxicated when the assaults occurred.

“And probably 95 percent of the assaults are by an acquaintance,” Morey said.

Prevention efforts on campus focus on both men and women, Morey said.
First-year students are required to attend workshops on the issue in their residence halls early in the first semester, she said. 

“One of the things about our campus I find very hopeful is that we’ve taken a very proactive approach,” Morey said.  “This is a serious issue and we’re taking it very seriously.”

Fitzpatrick noted that solutions to crime on campus cannot come from police alone.  Student use of alcohol, she said, has a significant impact on crimes on campus, but arresting students for using alcohol doesn’t stop the problem.

And drinking on campus continues to be a major concern for police, deans and all others who oversee student safety.

“There’s no doubt that most of the student-on-student crimes that occur are a result of the overconsumption of alcohol,” Clark said.

The students tend to either react more aggressively when they’ve been drinking, or sometimes do things they wouldn’t do if they were sober, said Ilene Harned, the coordinator of the Alcohol and Other Drug Office on campus.

In addition, there’s a concern about the students who drink until they are so incapacitated they need medical attention.  During the fall semester, 45 students were transported to local hospitals for overconsumption of alcohol, Harned said.  Seven students were transported for drug-related medical problems and 120 other students were referred to her office for disciplinary matters, such as having liquor in their rooms or receiving a city violation for drinking as a minor.

 The Alcohol and Other Drug Office just opened in the fall so it can’t compare alcohol use by students with other years.  But Fitzpatrick and Clark believe the problem may be increasing.  Clark said studies have shown that some students have drinking problems before they arrive at the university.

“It’s a changing attitude and behavior,” Clark said.  “And as we’ve said, arresting students is not the solution to the problem.”