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Crime rate rises in Swarthmore Borough

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Students at the college may have noticed an increase in Public Safety’s Timely Warning Notifications regarding off-campus crime this semester. Since winter break, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill has notified the community of three incidents of crime in the borough of Swarthmore via campus-wide emails. While such messages are not new to the college’s safety protocol, their apparent frequency this semester has raised awareness as to the state of crime in the area.

According to data collected by the Swarthmore Borough Police Department (SBPD), the number of assaults, thefts and robberies in the Borough of Swarthmore in 2013 increased 33 percent from their 2012 totals, while the total number of crimes reported increased by almost 10 percent. Such significant swings are atypical for crime trends in the borough. Data provided by the SBPD shows that total crime had been decreasing since 2008 at an average rate of 7.4 percent per year until last year’s increase disrupted the trend. The heightened crime tendencies revealed in 2013 have continued, with borough statistics revealing more theft and assault reports in January and February of 2014 than at the same point last year.

“Neither the college nor the borough is immune to crime,” Hill said. “We all have to be aware of our surroundings and report suspicious activity.”

The first crime bulletin shared with the campus community was sent on December 28, raising awareness about the robbery of the PNC Bank in the Ville. According to the SBPD report, a middle-aged, African American male entered the bank and handed the teller a note on which he had written that he wanted money and had a gun. Although no gun was visible, the note’s threatening final words — “Don’t do anything stupid” — forced the teller to hand over an undisclosed amount of money. Despite being captured on film by security cameras at the bank, the suspect remains at large.

SBPD notified Public Safety of the robbery the day it occurred, and shortly after the crime, Hill emailed a Timely Warning Notification of the crime to the campus community.

This marked the first of two Timely Warning Notifications issued to the campus community this semester, a significant increase considering that the only other Timely Warning Notification ever sent before this one was sent in August, 2013.

The second Timely Warning Notification of this semester alerted the campus community of a robbery on Rutgers Avenue that took place on February 5. According to the SBPD report, a borough resident was cut with a knife and beaten with what was believed to be a handgun by three men who robbed him of $600 in cash and his passport.

A few hours after having been made aware of the incident by the SBPD, Hill issued a Timely Warning Notification to the campus community.

“We have a responsibility to notify the community of any imminent threat to campus safety,” said Hill. “Timely Warning Notifications are sent for incidents that, under the Clery Act, require timely notification to the community.”

According to the Clery Center, a non-profit organization that supports education and advocacy regarding the Clery Act, the Clery Act requires colleges and universities to disclose any incidents on and around campus that involve homicide, sex offences, robbery, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft or arson.

Once Public Safety is notified by the SBPD of a crime committed in the borough by the SBPD, they are compelled by the Clery Act to share this information with the community.

Public Safety is regularly notified of criminal activity in the Ville during weekly meetings between Hill and SBPD Police Chief Brian Craig. According to Craig, a monthly meeting is also held consisting of Dean of Students Liz Braun, Judicial Affairs Coordinator Nathan Miller, Mayor of Swarthmore Tim Kearney, members of the Public Safety Advisory Committee as well as Craig and Hill.

“We have a good working relationship,” Craig said. “There are some issues on which we can agree to disagree, but we can at least discuss them.”

Hill echoed those sentiments.

“We have an excellent relationship with the Swarthmore Police and work collaboratively as much as possible,” he said. “Public Safety generally makes requests for police or other emergency services, and they respond accordingly.”

The most recent collaborative work between SBPD and Public Safety has been the investigation of the January thefts from cars parked in Cunningham Parking Lot. According to the Awareness Bulletin sent by Hill, five cars were broken into on the night of January 24 and various valuables were stolen from each. According to Public Safety, the suspects have not been apprehended.

“I’m hopeful that the perpetrators are not part of our community,” Hill said, who believes these break-ins to be anomalous of the usual crime trends in the borough.

Still, according to the statistics provided by the SBPD, incidents of theft have increased considerably over the past year. In 2012, 58 thefts were reported to the SBPD, but in 2013, the number of reported thefts climbed to 82. Large swings like this are not characteristic of crime data for the borough, as data collected for both 2010 and 2011 shows 61 thefts for both years.

Aside from theft, the college is also responsible for 53 percent of liquor law violations, 50 percent of sex offenses, and 17 percent of disorderly conduct reported in the borough in 2013. According to SBPD reports, 2013 revealed a marked increase in the number of sex offenses reported by the college.

Public Safety’s reports agreed.

“In 2013, we found 91 reported incidents of sexual misconduct,” Hill said. “Please be aware that some of them may be regarding the same incident.”

According to Hill, the increase in reports is not indicative of heightened sexual misconduct during 2013, but rather heightened trends of crime reporting at the college.

“Thirty-four of the cases reported in 2013 were reported to have occurred in years prior to 2013, from 2007 to 2012,” Hill said. “For 25 cases, the date is not known at all.”

Despite the increase in reports of incidents of sexual misconduct, liquor law violations reported by the college are down from last year, as is overall crime.

“The campus and borough are very safe,” Hill said. “Outside of the car break-ins, the incidents of crime have not drastically changed.”

According to Hill, the increased notifications of crime are not the result of a more dangerous campus, but heightened attention to the Clery Act’s demand for information regarding local crime. These increased notifications come in the wake of the fall 2013 establishment of the Clery Act Compliance Committee: a group made up of students and faculty that is responsible for overseeing the college’s observance of the Clery Act.

Still, the college is not required to issue Timely Warning Notifications for all crimes. In some instances, Public Safety could choose to issue an Emergency Notification, an Awareness Bulletin or no notification at all.

“Emergency Notifications are for any incident that poses an active or imminent threat to our community,” said Hill. “Awareness Bulletins are for incidents that did not take place in our immediate jurisdiction, but our community members should know as an awareness measure.”

According to Public Safety’s website, “The reasons the college does or does not issue a Timely Warning for any Clery Crime reported to the college will be documented and maintained by the Department of Public Safety for at least seven years.”

Whether or not the number of Timely Warning Notifications will continue to increase remains unclear as it depends on Public Safety’s discretion as well as incidences of crime in the area. Based on SBPD statistics for previous years, an increase in non-violent crimes, particularly theft, is to be expected.

“Safety is a shared responsibility, and we all must be vigilant and look out for one another,” said Hill. “We will continue to work closely with Swarthmore Police and be proactive in our efforts to deter crime.”

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