University Park campus grapples with safety concerns

An increase in burglaries around off campus housing leaves students uncomfortable with current conditions

The area surrounding the University Park Campus has seen an increase in burglaries, with some cases involving suspects entering students’ homes while they are inside, according to the Department of Public Safety.

DPS issued a safety advisory notice to students last week with tips on how to stay safe and prevent further burglaries. DPS Assistant Chief David Carlisle says it’s an unusual trend and he encourages students to follow steps to protect themselves and their property.

“In some cases [burglars] have gone in and helped themselves to food. In one case, they were actually in the students’ bathroom taking a shower,” Carlisle said in an interview with Annenberg Media.

Carlisle attributed these cases to a rise in both the student and unhoused community populations around campus, especially after the pandemic.

Theater major and senior Fiona Baquerizo witnessed these incidents from her part of the neighborhood near West 30th St.

“My neighbor’s car just got keyed last week and [the] people across the street had a break in,” she said.

Baquerizo also mentioned she’s unsure how to bring attention to unhoused community members experiencing mental health episodes outside of her house without sounding rude or privileged.

“You’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place because I want to help people. And if you want to take my cans, I’m not going to be like ‘Get out of here,’” she said.

Brenda Wiewel, former director of the USC Homeless Initiative, says there is more than meets the eye behind the increase in unhoused people in the USC community.

“The thing about mental health is some of the people who are on the streets have had tremendous trauma in their history and then when they’re on the street, just trying to survive to get their basic needs met, it can be very traumatic,” she said.

Wiewel hopes that DPS will start to implement a mental health response team that would deal with these issues rather than calling the police.

“The police will look for anything that somebody does, which is against the law, even if it’s very minor, and then they will arrest them and they are more likely to not treat them in a way that responds to their mental or emotional state,” she said.

Baquerizo and her housemates have already begun to adhere to the prevention tips sent by DPS by putting up lights on their porch as well as emphasizing how her housemates keep themselves accountable.

“No matter what, we always have the door locked. We’re pretty on top of each other about that. And we’ll call each other out, if the door’s left unlocked,” she said.

Closer to campus, Gateway residents feel like their residence has enough measures to keep them protected.

Electrical and computer engineering major and junior Emma Gronstad says, “I generally feel pretty safe at Gateway. I have really, really reliable roommates and we always like to travel together. So, I haven’t had it too terrible in relation to break-ins.”

Other students have also noticed incidents on their streets.

“We’ve seen a couple house break-ins. And we’ve seen a couple car break-ins where they smash the windows and steal things from inside people’s cars on the street,” said Emma Marcussen, a senior majoring in business administration.

Marcussen says she feels safe in her home but is also discouraged by the school’s notice to remember to lock their doors, keep their lights on and hope for the best.

She also mentioned how a DPS officer told her all she can do is “lock our door or close our windows and that the crime is going to keep happening since the people who are arrested are only arrested for the night,” a statement which Carlisle reiterated.

Carlisle recommends students living off campus to follow the tips given in the safety advisory notice and for students to keep their lights or TV on to give the impression someone is home.

“If you have trusted neighbors, ask them to keep an eye on your place while you’re away. But all too often, those minor precautions are not taken,” Carlisle said.

He also encourages a policy of “lock it, hide it, keep it,” which refers to not leaving things unattended in a home’s common area in case of someone opening the door and quickly taking something.

Students can call different numbers depending on their situation. Carlisle recommends calling the DPS emergency number (213-740-4321) in cases of emergency. The Homeless Outreach Mobile Engagement (HOME) 24/7 hotline from the LA County Dept. of Mental Health can be used in cases of addressing the needs of the unhoused and mentally ill. They can be reached at 1(800) 854-7771.