Safety questions emerge as MU prepares off-campus expansion

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 | 9:47 p.m. CDT; updated 11:16 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — With a record-breaking number of freshmen attending MU this fall, the Department of Residential Life has found off-campus housing solutions. It’s not the first time MU has sought additional housing, but the decision has raised questions about the safety of students away from the protective shadow of Jesse Hall — especially since one of the housing options is in one of the three most burglarized areas in the city, as identified by a July 16 Columbia police news release.
The facilities housing students under the Residential Life contract at Campus Lodge will be called Mizzou Quads, and those at Campus View will be called Tiger Diggs.
In a news release, Columbia Police Capt. Zim Schwartze said the number of burglaries in the city had increased this year and promised an elevated police presence in some of the more heavily affected areas. The release said that the area of Grindstone Parkway and Old 63 — where Campus Lodge is located — was one of Columbia’s three most burglarized areas so far this year.
Between January and May of 2007, there were 175 total burglaries. For the same time frame in 2008, there were 328 total burglaries. That’s an increase of 87.4 percent. Of the 328 burglaries, 261 were residential, with 82 percent of those happening at apartments, rentals and duplexes.
Despite their location in one of the city’s most burglarized areas, Campus Lodge property manager Vineta Pritchard said she hadn’t heard residents express concern about security. In any case, Pritchard said, “no apartment community, on or off campus, or even residential home communities can guarantee security.”
Campus View manager Laura Kagle also emphasized there is no guarantee of security.
Freshman moving into off-campus locations were largely unconcerned about crime.
Ashok Sezhiyan, a freshman from Ellisville, chose to live in Campus View. Like many of his classmates, Sezhiyan was more interested in having his own room than worrying about crime at his apartment complex. His apartment features a kitchen, living room and individual bedrooms and bathrooms for each resident.
Classmate Jordan Lasater of Ballwin agrees that his apartment at Campus Lodge is nicer than many dorms available to freshmen on campus. Lasater was unfazed to hear about the increase in crime around his new home. 
“I can defend myself,” he joked.
Parents of freshman at the Mizzou Quads expressed nominal concerns about safety and were impressed by the facilities. 
Don Downing had mixed feelings about his son, Dirk, living off campus until he saw Campus Lodge and its amenities. Downing, a 1979 MU graduate, said that his freshman dorm room “can’t hold a candle” to his son’s apartment, though he would prefer if the complex were closer to campus. 
Chris Francis of Lindbergh was also won over by his daughter Amanda’s apartment at Campus Lodge.  “It’s better than any apartment her mom or I lived in at that age,” he said.
Students and their parents agreed that basic safety measures such as locking doors would provide sufficient security. 
For about eight years, Columbia Police Department Crime Prevention Officer Tim Thomason has been running the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, which aims to combat illegal activities at rental properties. The three-phase program includes an eight-hour training session for landlords, a property inspection complete with safety recommendations and “a safety social to get tenants involved and help keep themselves safe.”
Thomason said that Campus View has “been a part of the program for many years” and “is a fully certified property.” He said that its crime rate has decreased significantly since entering the program.
“(Campus View) management is very proactive in looking for crime-related issues, assisting with investigations and following up and evicting tenants when needed,” Thomason said.
Thomason does not recall any current or prior Campus Lodge management personnel attending any portion of the Crime Free Program. He said that if they have completed any of it, they have only done the first phase.
MU Police Chief Jack Watring said that Campus Lodge and Campus View will fall under the jurisdiction of both MUPD and the Columbia Police Department in the sense that either department will respond to any incident at either place.
Director of Residential Life Frankie Minor said that Campus Lodge agreed to have MUPD be its primary responder, but Campus View still wanted a few questions answered before making its decision. Both properties have courtesy officers that live on site and perform patrol.
Next year, Residential Life student staff members will live in the complexes and serve as community advisers as they would in any on-campus residence hall. The staff members are trained to spot and report crimes.
MU residence halls have outside doors that automatically lock from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m,, except those with attached dining halls, which open at 7 a.m. Although Campus Lodge has electronic keys, neither complex has doors that lock automatically. Both complexes do have locks on the bedroom doors.
Minor said that both complexes were built to the specifications of the fire code that were current at the time they were constructed. Both complexes have smoke detectors in every apartment, and each Campus Lodge apartment has eight sprinklers.
Minor said that other apartment complexes offered to house the additional students but did not possess all of the qualities that the department was looking for. Minor said the places needed to be pre-furnished, have the capacity to house a large number of students, have some kind of transportation and close proximity to campus as well as be safe and secure. 
“These two (complexes) kind of emerged rather quickly,” Minor said.
Both complexes will continue to house students not under contract with Residential Life.
Minor said students living in Tiger Diggs and Mizzou Quads will be subject to the same emergency drills, policies and health and safety checks as those living in on-campus facilities, while students not living under Residential Life contract will not be.
The Residential Life alcohol policy, for example, prohibits students from possessing or consuming alcohol in their rooms regardless of age. The policy will be in place at Mizzou Quads and Tiger Diggs.
“Students living under our contract will be under our policies,” Minor said.