How safe is Ypsilanti?
“I have seen a gun pulled on my neighbor who was sitting outside doing homework this past summer. I have called the cops for hearing gunshots often. We hear gunshots about once a week from our apartment. I saw a group of five girls attack another girl. The girl who was being attacked then got into her car and ran over the group of five girls. She hit the girl so hard she flew through the air, and it sounded like a car accident it was so loud.”
University Green resident and Eastern Michigan University senior Vanessa Farrugia tearfully expressed her concern for her neighbors’ – and her own – safety at last Tuesday’s forum in the Student Center Ballroom. Following the forum, she explained her reasons for attending.
“I wanted to know exactly what the university was doing to step up security for not only on-campus students but the off-campus ones as well,” Farrugia said. “As they said earlier at the conference, Eastern is a commuter school. That needs to be taken into consideration. Why did it take two EMU students’ death in off-campus housing to find an effort for better protection?”
In the past year, three homicides occurred in the area directly north of campus. In December 2012, junior communication and electronic media and film studies major Julia Niswender was presumably murdered in her apartment at Peninsular Place. The father of an EMU student was killed in a dispute in March 2013 in the same complex, and sophomore communication major and student-athlete Demarius Reed was found dead in the University Green apartments, down the street from Peninsular Place.
“I have no sense of security in my own home,” Farrugia said. “I’m afraid to walk to my car, I’m afraid that something may happen in the parking lot when I’m already home and my fiance is walking in from work. I’m afraid of who is in my hallways and parking lots. I’m afraid for friends to walk to my apartment from the visitor parking lot. I always thought that they were accidents and only happened to people who were walking alone late at night … After what happened to Julia, and now recently Demarius, I realize that it can happen to anyone anywhere.”
EMU alumna Carmen Grange has lived at University Green since August 2011. Despite being an avid gym-goer confident in her ability to defend herself, she feels uncomfortable in her own environment.
“I feel like I am constantly looking over my shoulder in this community,” Grange said. “I do not feel safe at home. I don’t feel like the security patrol does anything. I see them maybe once a week.”
Grange had her window kicked in during the first week of classes, leaving what she described as a “little bigger than a softball-sized hole.” She said that two of her neighbors also experienced break-ins.
“In particular to where I live, I feel unsafe in my home, in my parking lot, at the Kampus Korner gas station and going for a run at 11 a.m.,” Grange said. “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
According to city-data.com, Ypsilanti has more than twice the amount of criminal activity that neighboring city Ann Arbor has, and nearly four times as much crime as nearby Saline. The rate of violent crime has fluctuated in the past decade but Ypsilanti consistently had almost twice as much – if not more – violent crime than the average U.S. city. Michigan has one sex offender for every 753 residents. Ypsilanti has one sex offender for every 124 residents, and the percentage of rapes has been twice as high as the national average for years.
Many EMU students do not feel safe in the city, particularly those who live off-campus. Adam Wright, a junior graphic design major, is among them.
“Recently I have been spending nights at my girlfriend’s apartment in Ann Arbor and commuting by public transport back to school in the mornings because I feel unsafe in my apartment,” Wright, who lives in University Green, said. “I plan on doing this until the violence is contained.”
Wright was not pleased with the apartment’s security measures.
“There has been violent incidents happening here regularly since I have moved in,” Wright said. “I should have done more homework before moving in. Had I known about these issues I would not have moved in here. Locks are busted off the building doors so strangers have easy access. When we approached the management about these issues they did not seem to care.”
Nichole Penrod of Paragon Properties had only been managing University Green for a little less than three weeks when the murder of Demarius Reed occurred. She said that at the time of the crime, the complex had nightly patrols running eight hours nightly. Since the incident, security has been increased to include a foot patrol and driving patrol at any time that the office is closed.
“I believe we are taking the right measures to ensure peace of mind for our residents,” Penrod said.
University Green contributed an additional $5,000 to the already-existing $5,000 reward for information on the identity of the killer.
“I regret that a young man with a promising future has lost his life to a senseless act of violence,” Penrod said of Reed’s death.
Discussions of measures that should be taken to ensure the well-being of the Ypsilanti community have been commonplace following the string of violent crimes that occurred this month, including not only the homicide but several assaults and rapes. In particular, the safety of off-campus apartment complexes has been a subject of controversy in the past couple weeks.
According to Ypsilanti Police Chief Tony DiGiusti, some landlords and apartment managers in the area have discouraged tenants from calling the police in the event of suspicious activity, claiming that the complex would be billed and that the cost would be passed down to the residents.
“If you have been told this, you have been misled,” DiGiusti said at last Tuesday’s forum on safety.
“If you have a problem, call the police. If you see something suspicious in your area, call the police.”
DiGiusti mentioned that the police department would be reaching out to landlords suspected of influencing their residents to avoid calling the police in an effort to insure that misinformation is not given in the future.
Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said that police presence will be increased in the Leforge-Railroad-Clark area and that the city is having ongoing negotiations with the university’s administration to find ways to improve safety.
Schreiber said that his goal for the upcoming year is for Ypsilanti’s residents to see “all homicide cases solved, EMU and the city police departments working together more closely, students taking routine safety precautions like traveling with a group of people, locking doors and windows, responsible partying, and calling the police in response to any suspicious activity.”
Adam Reid, the director of communications for EMU’s Student Government, echoed Schreiber’s sentiments, staying optimistic about the future of the city in spite of the recent crime.
“In a year, I would really like to see students start to dive into the Ypsilanti community,” Reid said.
“There is so much that this city has to offer.”
Follow Jess J. Salisbury on Twitter @jessjsalisbury.