Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.

AWOL

Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.

AWOL

Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.

AWOL

Chasing history
Magazine Release
The Magazine has been released!

Rise in crime in D.C.

What is AU doing to keep its community safe?
Rise+in+crime+in+D.C.
Katherine Marisa Alvarez

On Nov. 28, 2023, the student body received an email from Phillip Morse stating that the Metropolitan Police Department was investigating a robbery and assault that happened at the 3700 block of Nebraska Ave. NW, an address next to Nebraska Hall. One of the subjects was armed with a firearm, according to the email.  

As of Nov. 30, 2023, there has been a 32% increase in homicides from the previous year in the district, according to MPD crime data. The district surpassed 200 homicides within the first ten months of the year. 

MPD Captain Darren Haskis said that these statistics signify only glances into specific time spans. 

“There’ll be a three-month stretch where D.C. will maybe have a higher crime trend, but then if you follow up six months later, three months later, we’d be lower in [different crimes],” Haskis said.

On Oct. 4, 2023, AU’s Chief Financial Officer Bronté Burleigh-Jones said in an email that safety at AU is its “number one” priority. 

For more than 10 years, our comprehensive safety plan has operated on a foundation of detect, deter, prevent and respond,” Burleigh-Jones said. “As conditions evolve, we regularly assess the plan and update protocols as needed.” 

The email said that the AU Police Department partners with different law enforcement agencies, including MPD, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. 

“Fortunately, AU is in a relatively fine part of town but it’s not unheard of for there to be violence on campus,” Haskis said. 

In response to criminal incidents close to campus, like the Nov. 28 robbery, AU Student Government President Edwin Santos said AU is doing a great job keeping its community safe. 

“We have Phil Morse here, who was the chief of police for the Capitol police before coming to AU,” Santos said. “He’s very well connected, has a lot of resources, he’s always in the know of things happening in the local area, and in the nation because of his connections. Having that resource on campus, I would say it’s a big asset.” 

AU, located in American University Park in Ward 3, is in the oldest and safest quadrant in the district, according to Crime Data D.C. AU is approximately 1.5 miles from the Second District’s headquarters, according to American University’s annual security report

Haskis said AU Park residents should be alert, and if a person is demanding something, be aware they may be armed

“Somebody says ‘I have a gun, give me your thing,’ I would just say give them whatever you have and call 911,” Haskis said. 

He said that MPD encounters many repeat offenders when making arrests for violent crimes compared to other cities. 

“It’s unlikely you will meet somebody who could be arrested on a violent felony gun charge as often as we encounter people here in the District of Columbia,” Haskis said.

The district ranks first in the nation for the highest rate of gun-related homicides, according to Everytown’s 2020 research. On average, 155 people die by guns in Washington, D.C every year. Gun related incidents incur an annual economic burden of $2 billion on Washington, D.C. 

Haskis said it’s very easy to get a gun in the district. 

“It’s not uncommon to encounter somebody with some kind of gun,” Haskis said. “Tempers flare, [there’s] ready access to all sorts of very deadly weapons.”

In the Oct. 4 email, Burleigh-Jones said that the university is currently exploring whether AUPD officers should be armed with lethal force weapons. 

Santos said he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to have MPD on campus, but instead to have them in surrounding areas. 

“I know having police presence on campus can make some students uncomfortable,” Santos said. “On the other hand, I also recognize the need for quick responses if something were to happen.”

AU establishes and monitors measures and initiatives dedicated to enhancing safety, security and the deterrence of criminal activity, according to the 2023 annual security report. AU also offers services, including self-defense training taught by AUPD and an outside contractor, according to the AU’s crime prevention page. These classes are offered to students in both the fall and spring. 

Other services include SafeRide, which can be used within a ten-mile radius of AU’s main campus, and ensures that students can safely get back to campus, according to AU’s crime prevention page. With AU’s police escort service, AUPD can escort students anywhere on campus, either on foot or in a vehicle if the student feels unsafe. 

Graduate student Tyler Eliades, who also earned his undergraduate degree at AU, said he understands the differing opinions on having officers armed on campus, especially because of his Jewish faith. 

“I understand where they’re coming from, especially being part of a targeted group,” Eliades said. “If the officers are just walking around campus, no. I do not think they should carry around a gun.” 

Eliades said he also recognizes how some students feel that guns or police officers that are armed could be better for safety, but believes there are alternative methods to arming police officers. 

“I think we could arm them differently, like either pepper spray or possibly Tasers,” Eliades said. 

From another vantage point, first-year student James Rafferty said they’ve felt relatively safe when they’ve explored the city. 

“I don’t know, I haven’t gotten to an area that I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t feel safe here,’” Rafferty said. 

Eliades said he generally feels safe in the city but he remains alert. 

“I love Dupont,” Eliades said. “But alone at Dupont at night? I don’t know if I’d want to be there. Just anywhere crowded more or less. The Metros are very crowded at night and could be scary as well.” 

In Dupont Circle, about 16 out of every 1,000 people experience violent crime in a regular year, according to Crime Grade

Haskis said that he doesn’t think Washington is a dangerous city. 

“Crime is not non-existent,” Haskis said. “It’s like many cities. It definitely has crime. Can it be a violent city? Yes, it can. But overall, I think it’s safe.”

Haskis said that MPD is doing more to slow down crime rates in the city. 

“We’ve increased our patrols overnight, especially in parts of the city that get that foot traffic at night in nightlife areas,” Haskis said.

Haskis said that MPD has placed patrol cars in these areas so that people feel safe about not getting robbed or attacked. He also said that MPD is increasing their staffing and placing officers where they think people might fall victim to robberies, such as Metro stations. 

“We’ve had some good results this past month or two,” Haskis said. “Still, I think it’s a little early to pat ourselves on the back, but [there’s] some good signs.”

Santos said AU’s security measures, like scanning and showing a One Card for access, in student dorms are important. 

“I know a lot of students sometimes get annoyed that they have to do it, but simple things like that are what can bring more of a sense of security on campus,” Santos said. 

Rafferty said he feels safe on campus, but also recognizes security breaches. 

“I’m only a freshman, it’s hard to tell because I’ve only been here for a little bit of time,” Rafferty said.  “I’d say from my time here, obviously, there have been security breaches, like in my building, there’s the vandalism thing.” 

The vandalism Rafferty referred to was the antisemitic symbol found in Letts Hall in October 2023, according to an email sent out by AU President Sylvia Burwell

Santos said that the antisemitic graffiti found earlier this semester does raise safety concerns on campus. Eliades also said that while he feels secure both on and off campus, he acknowledges and understands safety concerns on campus. 

“I feel safe and I feel protected, I guess you could call it. I don’t feel like anything could happen to me,” Eliades said. “But there’s things that happen on campus that we’ve seen over the past few days.”

Elaiades said he was referring to the antisemitism symbols found on campus earlier in the fall semester and the anti-Palestinian note left under a School of Public Affairs faculty member’s door. The anti-Palestinian incident occurred in October 2023, according to an Oct. 25, 2023 email sent out by Burwell

Sophomore Megan Wysocki said she feels safe on campus and thinks AUPD resources are reliable. 

“I think they do a good job with community outreach and making sure that we’re aware of what the resources are,” Wysocki said. “I know that our whole blue light system is definitely fantastic — compared to a lot of other schools.” 

Wysocki said she toured other universities where their blue light emergency telephones were not functional. 

“I think we’re really safe here,” Wysocki said. “I know they have a fast response time. I’ve never had a problem with an AUPD officer. They’re ready to respond to the situation. You can tell they enjoy their job.”

Internal Communications Manager Jasmine Pelaez said in a comment to AWOL that AUPD provides current alerts regarding crimes happening on or near campus where students might be at risk of danger. 

“In the event of confirmed safety concerns on campus or surrounding campus, AUPD will send a communication (such as a crime alert or safety advisory) to the community about the incident,” Pelaez said. 

Pelaez said students should always be aware of their surroundings. 

We encourage members of our community to remain vigilant on and off campus,” Pelaez said. 

Haskis said students should walk home with friends and stay in well lit areas after a night out, emphasizing the times between midnight and 4 a.m. He said targets are often people walking alone and who look drunk or lost. 

“Just be particularly diligent in your surroundings,” Haskis said. “Being careful not to have too much to drink where you don’t know exactly where you are because, as disappointing as it is to hear, there are people who look to rob people in the city late at night, even some during the day.” 

Santos said students should always voice their concerns to the university through AUSG. 

“People have this conception that administrators are these people that are unreachable,” Santos said. “It’s not irrational for students to want to email them, and to actually take action to email them, and bring their concerns directly to them. So I would say, do it.”

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About the Contributor
Katherine Marisa Alvarez, Staff Writer
Marisa Álvarez (she/her) is a sophomore studying psychology and is in the process of getting a Spanish translation certificate. In her free time, she enjoys rewatching John Mulaney's Netflix specials.