Some Union College students have become so fearful of muggers that school administrators are investing in extra security for the entire Union Triangle neighborhood, where 200 students live in off-campus apartments.
Over the past year, the college has hired two city police officers to patrol off-campus during their off-duty hours. Today, President Stephen Ainlay will reveal a system of 10 security cameras, all placed outside the college gates in the neighborhood.
Administrators are also stressing situational awareness — walking in groups, keeping expensive items hidden and avoiding dimly lighted areas — in response to student fears.
There have been only three reported incidents involving off-campus students during this school year, with the most serious involving a knife wound when two men tried to fight off their muggers in September. By contrast, UAlbany students have faced rapes, break-ins and, most recently, the fatal shooting of a college senior.
While nothing of that severity has occurred in Schenectady, three robberies in two months has had a chilling effect on some of the student body.
Women told their professors that they were afraid to walk home after evening classes. Some demanded meetings with the college security chief, asking for a substantial increase in guards. Others told a reporter that they were afraid to walk through Schenectady even in daylight after a student was robbed of her iPod while jogging on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Police said the number of incidents near the school is actually on the decline, and tried to quell any rumors of a spike in robberies.
“There’s nothing that we’ve seen that indicates a rise or spike in crimes around the campus,” said police spokesman Christopher Wrubel.
But police and college officials aren’t dismissing the students’ fears.
“If you’re a victim of a larceny, it’s the most traumatic thing that’s happened in your life, and rightly so,” Wrubel said. “We take that seriously.”
The college hired an off-duty police officer last year to patrol off-campus. In September, the college added money for a second officer, doubling the territory that could be patrolled at once.
The officers work separately at night on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the most popular party nights for Union students. That’s when students are more likely to walk home without paying attention to their surroundings, possibly drunk, usually late at night and often alone.
“Those are the times when the crimes are most likely to occur,” said college spokesman Phil Wajda. “[The officers] were hired just as a way to bolster our security, just as an extra precaution.”
Only 200 of the college’s 2,100 students live off-campus, but Wajda said they’re not the only ones who need security.
“Students still go off campus,” he said.
The new cameras will be hooked to the city’s system of 45 cameras, most of which watch over Hamilton Hill and Vale neighborhoods and downtown. The camera feed can be viewed from police headquarters, and the cameras have deterred crime in some hot spots, according to District Attorney Robert Carney.
However, Carney has described them as being most effective as tools for quick prosecutions. Police are often able to identify criminals seen on the cameras, as well as capturing license plates and other details needed to prove that a suspect was at the scene of the crime.
But even without cameras, police were able to identify the man who stabbed a college student while robbing him outside the Mohawk Deli on Nott Street on Sept. 30. Wrubel said he expects the suspect to be arrested soon.
The other incidents may be harder to crack. While police have a 35 percent solve rate for muggings involving weapons, they solve only a fraction of the nonviolent robberies in the city, according to the department’s 2005-2007 arrest rate reports.
According to city and college records, the first robbery of the school year occurred on Sept. 21, when a man took a student’s cellphone as she walked up Lenox Road at 11:10 p.m. The other nonviolent robbery was on Oct. 26, when a man took a student’s iPod as she jogged on McClellan Street at 4 p.m.
But fear has been building for some time, the result of several high-profile incidents in recent years. In June, two teenagers walked on campus and tried to rob a man at knifepoint. The student was able to summon help at one of the college’s emergency kiosks, and the teenagers were arrested.