“My mind went blank.”
That’s how senior Brian Hanson reacted to the attempted robbery he encountered outside the Meliora Restaurant, a little less than three years ago. On a regular Sunday evening, Hanson, then a freshman, made the mistake of simply walking too quickly, and he walked into someone with a weapon.
“I was headed from the chapel to Sue B., and I went in between the library and Meliora Restaurant,” Hanson said. “He was actually walking in front of me, and I came up behind him, walking at a faster pace, so I caught up to him.” The person turned and pointed a gun at Hanson’s face. “He asked for my wallet, and I took it out and was holding it.”
The incident occurred in 2005, but as we near the end of a semester that opened with a surprising on-campus robbery spree and saw plans for a 19th Ward shuttle bumped up due to student concern, crime is still an issue, especially as UR progresses toward strengthening its presence on the other side of the river.
“We probably had more conversations about safety this year,” acting Dean of Students Matthew Burns said. “And given the fact that we’re building the Riverview apartments and having an office building over there, that made the conversation more imperative.”
Though a second security office across the river is probably too much to expect, Burns certainly anticipates Security patrols to increase in the area. “I’d be surprised if we had no presence over there,” he said.
But the issue of outsiders coming onto campus and victimizing UR students and community members remains prevalent and difficult to tackle.
“I come from a small town, so it was a shock to think that this could possibly happen,” Hanson said of his incident. “It was 8 o’ clock at night, no one else was around. I could see cars going past Sue B.” After removing his wallet, the mugger told Hanson to put it on the ground and then circled behind him. “He stepped to the side of me, out of my view, so I couldn’t see him at that point,” he continued. “He was getting out of my way so I would walk the same way I had been going. He didn’t want to lose sight of me either.”
During this time, Hanson, through his experience with firearms, had guessed that the gun might be fake and made a risky decision. “I figured that there wasn’t much coming out of that weapon,” he said. “So I decided to pick up my wallet instead of just walking away.” He grabbed his wallet as the offender ran toward the Academic Quad.
“There’s no one that wants to throw up a gate around the University of Rochester,” Dean Burns said. “It’s hard to call yourself the University of Rochester if you’re going to separate yourself from the city.”
Recently, most alarming were the several strong-arm robberies on campus at the beginning of the school year, some targeting students. Burns credits amped-up security with curbing the crime binge.
“It would seem to make sense that if there was someone out there looking to do that, they would do it until they were caught or they felt like it wasn’t safe to do that anymore,” he said.
UR’s typical response to a crime on campus is a step up in presence. “We always increase patrols wherever there’s a problem area,” Burns commented. Some comparable schools do utilize “peace officers” – security officers with elevated authority to access more information about a person, but they are unlikely to be employed at UR anytime soon, and the school is counting on its amiable relationship with Rochester Police as its future in the 19th Ward begins.
“Security has a great relationship with the RPD,” Burns said, “So they would be very involved with RPD and anything that happens, and I only see that increasing as we build apartments off campus.”
The administration has had discussions with several universities in comparable locations about student safety and campus crime – schools such as Yale University, Trinity College and Washington University.
“There’s not very much that’s different,” Burns said. “They struggle with the same issues.”
Burns, who thinks that the increase in traffic across the river will lead to a decrease in crime, points to student-to-student assaults and larcenies as the larger issue on campus.
“If you look at the crime on campus, it’s almost always student versus student,” he said. “It’s a much bigger problem. That’s not to say that other people coming on campus with the intention of committing crimes isn’t a problem for us. It certainly is, which is a reason we have a camera right on the footbridge.”
The footbridge is where Hanson’s assailant was spotted – running with computer equipment. After Hanson returned from the incident, he called Security and filed a police report, and the offender – a teenager – was caught the next morning. His weapon was a CO2 pellet gun. Still, looking back, Hanson questioned his own decision to pick up his wallet. “That was one of the stupidest things that I have ever done,” he said. “My assumption could have been completely wrong. If someone tells you to put your wallet on the ground and walk away, put your wallet on the ground and walk away to safety.”
Two and a half years removed, Hanson sees the campus as a generally safe place. “I guess I am a little more aware of who I’m walking by,” he said. “And I’m maybe a little smarter, if anything. But it was such a weird incident to happen at 8 o’ clock at night.” Luckily, most students have yet to be affected by such an assault outside of all school emails. The University certainly hopes this remains the case as UR branches across the river and beyond.
Fountaine is a member of the class of 2008.