New policing facility to open in University District

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

From a press release sent to me by Mayor Coleman's office:

A groundbreaking to mark construction of a new Neighborhood Policing Center in the University District will be held at 2:15 p.m. Thursday (6/7) at 248 E. 11th Ave. Ohio State President Karen A. Holbrook and Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman will join area residents and community leaders in the ceremony.

The center, located between Fourth and Summit streets, will serve as the new police substation for Columbus Precinct 4 and provide permanent office space for additional support services. It is funded jointly by Ohio State and the city.

I was a columnist for The Lantern from 2003-04, and I remember this idea swirling around while I was there (and long before). An updated and centralized police headquarters was viewed as a good thing for the neighborhood - though back then latent suspicion of Campus Partners and the Columbus police had some wondering if it would end all fun times.

Here are two interesting excerpts from an editorial in The Lantern, dated April 15, 2005: [full text]

Considering the number of people employed by and enrolled at Ohio State, it is not surprising that the off-campus area is one of the most densely populated in the country. The tens of thousands of students - not to mention faculty and staff - are not all commuting to campus every day. Add that population factor to the off-campus border of Weinland Park - a notoriously high crime area - and the result is an area with plenty of potential for crime.

We applaud every individual and every organization that played a role in the development and creation of the substation...Any effort to make the area, which is home to such a large part of the OSU community safer is welcomed.

I did some research in the Dispatch archives, and I found an interesting article from 2002 that compares crime stats for the University District to other areas of Columbus. An anlysis found:

- During the past 10 years, the district consistently has led Columbus neighborhoods in every category of violent crime except homicide.

- In 2001, more than half of the violent crimes in the district occurred in areas where about 15,000 students live -- between Summit and High streets and Maynard and King avenues. Two-thirds of burglaries and car thefts and virtually half of all rapes, robberies and assaults occurred there.

- The University District didn't log the most homicides in 2001, though two of the three slayings that occurred there were in the student-residential area.

Development, renovation and campus-wide safety initiatives have made the area safer in recent years, but a police station more centralized than the current one at Arcadia and Deming is a good idea.

"The campus area has always been a happy hunting ground for criminals," Columbus Police Officer Lawrence Geis, the community liaison officer for the University District, told the Dispatch last year.

He also mentioned that students and visitors to the district are seen as easy targets because they leave valuables untended and don't take enough precautions while out at night.

Nearly everyone I knew at OSU suffered from the plague of petty crimes that students face living in an urban area - assault, muggings, break-ins. My guess is that once the center opens in June 2008, there will be an immediate drop in these types of offenses.

A Dispatch editorial dated August 4, 2004, made a similar case:

Though nothing is a panacea for crime in the most densely populated section of a large city, a more conspicuous police presence might deter some of the thefts and assaults that plague the district. Cruisers coming and going from a centrally located station would be visible to residents, and to people hitting the bars and anyone up to no good.

Police say the University District isn't the worst precinct by any measure, but it has unique problems. Young adults move to the city from rural or suburban areas where serious crime is rare and they needn't worry about walking alone at night. They bring their computers, stereos and televisions, which stay over winter and summer breaks in empty old houses with inadequate locks. And the students, tenants for a few years, are less invested in the area than longtimers.

I don't have the background or the insight to know if it will influence the more serious crimes that happen around the area. Would it affect the deadly house fire on E. 17th Avenue in 2003 or the execution-style murders on E. 11th Avenue the same year?

I'm not sure.

Your thoughts?