Greek row; local police work toward creating safer community

NIU and DeKalb police held forums in the fall 2017 semester for students to voice concerns regarding increased crime near Greek row. Since then, Thomas Phillips, NIU Campus Police Chief has looked into technological advances to increase safety.

NIU and DeKalb police held forums in the fall 2017 semester for students to voice concerns regarding increased crime near Greek row. Since then, Thomas Phillips, NIU Campus Police Chief has looked into technological advances to increase safety.

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB — NIU Campus Police have taken action toward implementing student suggestions from the fall semester to make for a safer community.

There were 14 gun related safety bulletins released since Aug. 19 and throughout the fall semester, with incidents of shots fired, shootings, armed robberies, as well as an aggravated assault and home invasion.

Students responded with concern for their safety, prompting the university to host two safety forums.

The DeKalb Police Department and NIU Campus Police hosted two forums, Oct. 25 in Wirtz Hall and Oct. 30 at Fanatico, 1215 Blackhawk Road, to discuss the efforts being taken by both departments to address crime near Greek row. The safety forums were meant to alleviate some of the students’ concerns with regard to the incidents highlighted in the safety bulletins.

“We wanted to one, listen to our students, what were their concerns and obviously provide information beyond the safety bulletins,” Tom Phillips, NIU Campus Police chief, said.

Phillips said since then, he has been looking into putting in a request for proposal to try and get better technological communication methods, potentially including a safe walk app. Phillips also said his department is seeking grant money to get a camera system on campus to be able to monitor crisis situations in real time, but it is a challenge.

Phillips said several officers have joined the DeKalb County Special Operations Team, and they received extensive training to know how to best respond in crisis situations.

Students began moving back into residence halls Aug. 25, the same day the NIU Campus Police released a safety bulletin of an off-campus armed robbery. As the semester continued, more incidents involving handguns were brought to the students’ attention.

Phillips said his personal goal in the fall semester was to get through a period of time without having a safety bulletin, but there happened to be multiple shots fired incidents.

Phillips also said the changes initiated by his department were not a result of the concerns with crime, but rather those concerns prompted the department to reevaluate what was already in place.

Philips said Safety Bulletins sometimes alarm students, but the goal is to communicate with them so they are aware of what’s happening in the community and what areas to avoid.

“I will never not communicate that to our students,” Phillips said

There were 12 arrests made in relation to the gun violence in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood as a result of the Major Crime Task Force, according to a Nov. 3 DeKalb Police Department press release.

“[The Major Crime Task Force] is another collaboration of our agencies with other agencies where they come together to deal with investigations of major incidents like a homicide or something like that,” Phillips said. “We pull our resources, and together this team was assembled again to respond and investigate all of these shots fired.”

Phillips said the two police departments have continued their working relationship during the spring semester, continuing to share information of when and where crime is happening and looking into the probability of incidents.

Philips said the probability factor plays into data-driven policing between the university and city police departments, so both know where the “hot spots” are to better deploy officers to the problem areas.

“The students who live up on Greek row [were] very concerned because a lot of this was happening up there,” Phillips said. “I deployed our command vehicle up there at the nursing school.”

Phillips said the command vehicle is basically a mobile police station for officers to operate out of. Stationing it at the nursing school gives officers a closer point to the areas of concern, which gives them a better opportunity to catch those committing crime.

Chris Grabowski, junior communication media studies major who lives on Greenbrier Road, said he was close enough to the violence last semester to hear the gunshots through the windows of his residence.

Grabowski said there’s typically a higher police presence in the Greek row area, but he doesn’t think there has been an increase since last semester.

“I feel like there could be more to do and I don’t know exactly what,” Grabowski said. “But I feel like [university officials] kind of weren’t concerned with it as much because it’s considered off-campus, but a lot of students live here, So I feel like they could have done more, but I don’t know what that more is.”

Senior journalism major David Sivia said he previously lived on Greek row for two years and was in close proximity to several of the gun related incidents on Hillcrest Drive last semester.

“My fraternity house is on Hillcrest and a lot of the safety bulletins would pop up and say that something happened literally right in front of the house, and some of the shootings happened in the backyard, so I was pretty close to them,” Sivia said.

Sivia said Greek row has been better and the perception around safety has changed from last semester, but he also feels the weather is a factor in the lessened crime.

“We’ll see it as it gets warm,” Phillips said. “Right before graduation, crime will go up again and then everyone leaves for the summer and crime goes down so it literally has like a wave effect and that wave can be higher or lower. Our goal in public safety is to make it as low as possible, that we try to prevent, our primary goal is prevent and protect and then when it does happen respond effectively, and then enforce, try to catch the people that commit the crimes.”

Philips said he promoted several officers to commander to add more protection behind overseeing the street operations, to increase the visible presence of police cars and officers in the area as well as adding officers and paying overtime.

“They’ve stepped up the police presence for what is considered off-campus — even though the majority of students live there … they did step up the police presence so I think they responded in an according way,” Sivia said.

Crime has been bad in past years, Sivia said, but never to the point where guns were involved and there were shootings. He also said in the fall there’s more to do around Greek row on account of the nicer weather. He said students felt unease in being outside during the fall semester, needing to be aware of their surroundings and be cautious.

Grabowski said crime has gone up a lot since his first year at NIU with the fall 2017 semester being the worse with gun violence, but the spring semester has been better in terms of violence in the area.

“Although NIU does not claim the Greek Row area, they claim it to be off-campus, but they have to recognize that the majority of the residents there are students and that’s where most of the action is going on,” Sivia said.

Grabowski said he’s heard students talk about wanting to leave NIU because of how dangerous the area is.

“I know kids who have brought it up in conversation that they should leave NIU, but no one has actually gone forth because of the violence or anything that’s going on and left strictly because of it,” Sivia said.

Phillips said students who come from smaller towns may view the community as unsafe, while those coming from big cities like Chicago may view DeKalb as safer.

“I would say that we have a safe campus and a safe community, depending on where you’re from that is based on your perspective,” Phillips said.