It was the kidnapping and five armed robberies that occurred within the two weeks just prior to Spring Break that made Micaela Robb-McGrath conscious of the realities of crime in District 3.
“Although I thought I was making good choices, I really probably wasn’t making the best choices for my safety,” Robb-McGrath, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said. “The time and circumstances surrounding the incidents, especially the clustering and severity of the crimes showed that I really do need to take proactive steps to be safe on campus.”
With the recent spike in violent crime on campus, the perception of students tends to be that violent crime in the area is increasing.
“I thought crime in the immediate Marquette area was increasing after those events,” Robb-McGrath said.
With nationally recognized student safety programs, Marquette’s Department of Public Safety is looked to as the remedy for crime on campus. Especially in light of the recent violence, DPS has made itself, along with the Milwaukee Police Department available to address concerns and answer questions from the Marquette community, as was seen in a March 10 forum. However, despite the efforts of DPS, some students still have reservations about the level of safety on campus.
“Those crimes were just jarring and shocking,” Julie Knyszek, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “When they’re separated out you don’t think about it as much as when it all happens in one week.”
District 3 does have higher numbers of violent crime than other areas of Milwaukee, but, according to the MPD Web site, violent crime, including robberies, has actually decreased by 62 percent since 1990.
The expansion of DPS, not only in numbers, but in the continual creation of effective student safety programs also affects crime trends. Since his start with DPS in 1985, Captain Russell Shaw said the department has grown three times its original size.
“As far as personal crime goes, since the late 90s, it has decreased at Marquette,” Shaw said. “With the recent spike in robberies, the perception might be the opposite, but in reality the numbers are lower.”
“CRIMES OF OPPORTUNITY”
In the most recent robbery that occurred over spring break on W. Wisconsin Ave., Shaw said all of the five suspects came from outside of District 3 to commit the crime.
“The majority of violent crime around campus committed is from those outside our area,” Shaw said. “It’s often a crime of opportunity; in a lot of these cases they’re just riding through here.”
As far as increased security measures are concerned, Shaw said the department continues to add more cameras and has cut vacation time to be able to keep a high level of manpower in the department and more officers on the streets.
“We’re creating more overtime and trying to saturate the area as much as we can to have more squads out there,” Shaw said.
In terms of crime, Marquette is a very safe area to be living in, but taking preventative measures along with gaining a broader understanding of violent crime in the area makes a difference in decreasing a student’s chances of being a victim, said Shaw.
“It’s important to look at the big picture outside the patrol area, students never think crime is going to happen to them and it gets frustrating when students don’t take advantage of the safety programs” Shaw said. “A decent amount of students come from rural areas and it takes time to adjust to the urban environment, but students need to be totally aware of their surroundings.”
Despite complaints that DPS is not always upfront about the nature of the severity of campus crimes, Shaw maintains the department does not try to withhold information.
“We’re not trying to hide things when we put information about an incident out there,” Shaw said.
The need for departmental discretion when dealing with crime information is also present in the relationship between MPD and the public. “We weigh the need for people to know about the crimes with the need for a successful resolution,” MPD District 3 Captain James Harpole said.
A new approach to community policing, with a focus on building and fostering relationships between DPS, MPD and residents of the community is becoming an increasingly prevalent and effective way to control crime.
“It was an error of the past to look at community policing as just a program. It is not a program, but a method of operation, focusing on responding to the needs of the community,” Harpole said. “We are working towards becoming proactive instead of reactive like we are now. Our goal is to get rid of the visible signs of disorder and crime. We need to stop people from coming from other areas into District 3 to buy drugs and sex.”
“INTELLIGENCE LED, DATA DRIVEN AND PROACTIVE”
With the limited resources that exist in all communities, learning to balance and work with budgets at the state and local levels is a recurrent challenge of law enforcement at Marquette and in Milwaukee.
“It can be difficult, because preventing crime is resource intensive, and when there are visible signs that something is happening on the street, it adds to that negative perception of the neighborhood,” Jeffrey Altenburg, Marquette alumnus and Director of the Community Based Prosecution Unit for Milwaukee County, said. “Our early priority has been to get a plan in place, where we’re looking for results on violent crime and we’re committed to use info to get specific resources.”
The emphasis on personal relationships, not only between police and the community but also within the department, is the focus of MPD, which “continues to be intelligence led, data driven and proactive,” Altenburg said.
Graduating from Marquette in 1986, Altenburg said that when he was a student, Public Safety was not the advanced policing force it has since become.
“When I was at Marquette, DPS was more like mall security,” Altenburg said. “But the transformation of the department did not happen overnight, you’ll get returns where you put resources in.”
Despite the strides DPS has and continues to make, the realities of an urban environment make crime nearly inevitable.
“I understand crime is not their fault because there’s only so much power in the department and they’re limited by so many factors,” Knyzsek said. “When crime increases they only use what they have available, but I would like MPD to be more available on campus,” Knyszek said.
Although students’ perceptions may be that more cops equal less crime, Harpole said more cops doesn’t necessarily equate to a safer neighborhood.
“For the number of people at Marquette, crime is low,” Harpole said. “Crime happens everywhere, but in Milwaukee we already have this perception that it’s crime filled, but it’s really an anomaly. You can’t condemn the neighborhood and be paralyzed by fear; sometimes we look at such a small snapshot in time when it’s not always accurate.”
As much as crime is stopped by law enforcement, the prosecution of crime plays a pivotal role in diminishing crime in District 3. However, because of budget restrictions and resource limitations, the District Attorney’s office has looked to alternatives outside the criminal justice system, better suited to deal with specific offenses, Altenburg said.
“We’ve been getting smarter about how you bring people into the criminal justice system, you have to preserve limited resources for violent individuals,” Altenburg said. “We’re not soft on crime, we’re tough on crime, but when you lose 20 prosecutors in the DA’s office you have to make tough decisions.”
In addition to understanding what works in the criminal justice system, Altenburg maintains identity is key to cutting crime.
“More neighborhood identity, and relationships and communication improve crime in the community,” Altenburg said.
THE IMPACT OF THE AVENUES WEST ASSOCIATION
As much as law enforcement and prosecutors impact crime in the area, the redevelopment of the business district around Marquette and revitalization of buildings in the community in recent years has played a critical role in violent crime development.
“There really has been a steady, but dramatic downward trend in crime in District 3,” June Moberly, executive director of the Avenues West Association, the local neighborhood revitalization association said. “The investment and reinvestment in businesses and upgrading buildings in the community has had a real impact.”
The Avenues West Association works with businesses in District 3 to improve property management practices and to create a safer environment. The association also works with landlords in the area, encouraging them not to rent to troubled tenants, said Moberly.
Currently the Association is working on infrastructure reinvestments, pedestrian lightings and 27th St. main streets program in the neighborhood. Business and building improvements to the neighborhood has increased property values in the last 13 years.
According to the Avenues West Association’s 2007 Annual Report in comments made by Association President and Marquette Vice President of the Office of Public Affairs Rana Altenburg, “property values within the Avenues West Business Improvement District rose from $46,524,890 in 1993 to $92,953,229 in 2006.
Despite increased real estate values, poverty is still a concern in District 3. “District 3 is home to a more poverty stricken community, and with that higher level of poverty, there tends to be more crime,” Harpole said.
Along with poverty, the Ambassador Hotel, which catered to prostitutes and extensive drug activity in the mid-80s, also played a large role in crime, and contributed to a perception of the community around Marquette as blighted and dangerous.
“Business districts help communities thrive, but when they decline, and there’s that perception that businesses are boarded up, the trend tends to be that homeowners leave and renters come in,” Harpole said.
However, with neighborhood improvements in Avenues West, there continues to be a stronger element of home ownership. As Marquette also purchases property in the area and renovates it, the perception of District 3 improves.
“The investments Marquette has made have been instrumental in improving the area,” Harpole said. “Marquette’s vision for the area has played a huge role in the rebirth of the region with the Ambassador Hotel renovation and other recent developments.”
by Robert Fafinski III
For Mike Heim, senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, though, all these facts and figures came crashing down on him one night in late 2006. On an otherwise normal evening at Marquette, Heim, a thrower on the Track team, was walking back from studying at the Al McGuire Center.
“I saw two black guys coming at me with a purpose, I had a moment of indecision-thought ‘what do I do?’-and then it happened… the first guy grabbed me, pulled me onto the grass. I tensed up to fight, and that’s when I saw the other guy pointing a gun at me.”
Heim is not someone a person would normally associate with being the victim of a crime. A thrower on the Track team, Heim’s size and strength are considered some of his greatest assets. He’s 6’6” and weighs 270 pounds. He is a big guy. But now, Heim realizes his size only gave him a false sense of security.
“I have no more illusions that I can’t get picked on because I’m big,” he said in an interview Monday.
After the initial shock wore off and Heim realized that he was being mugged, he attempted to look at the men for distinguishing features, something he hoped could be used for subsequent police efforts. That’s when the scariest thing happened.
“After the confusion wore off, I started to look up because I may have had to identify the guys. That’s when the guy thrust up the gun at my face and said, ‘Don’t f—— look at me or I’ll shoot your ass.”
It’s at this point that looking back Heim is finally actually able to find a little humor in the incident.
“When he said that, I stuck my chin waaay down on my chest I was so scared I did whatever they said.”
When the men had taken all of Heim’s personal property, they told him to walk back the way he had come while they mad their getaway.
“When they had everything, they said ‘turn back and walk back the way you came- don’t turn around or I’ll shoot you.’ And I believed them.”
Heim then stumbled upon two unsuspecting Marquette women who let him into their apartment and called DPS. Heim was physically safe, but the damage to his psyche was just setting in.
MU RESPONSE “AWESOME”
Marquette University Public Safety acted very professionally and caring, according to Heim. Despite his shaken state, the first officer on the scene was very helpful- suggesting counseling and even giving Heim a pamphlet about identity theft.
“I thought [DPS was] awesome. They were patient because I was speaking a mile a minute. The officer was really nice. He talked to me about victim counseling. He also told me, ‘this is a traumatic crime. If at any point in the future you feel nervous or need someone to talk to, just pick up a Blue Light Phone and one of our officers will just pick you up and drive you home.’”
Heim did, in fact, utilize the victim counseling services offered by Marquette. Often after a traumatic crime, the victim will not feel comfortable talking about his feelings to someone who has not had a shared experience. So Heim was a little apprehensive about going to counseling.
But, he said, “It did help. I mean, those people are trained to understand. It gave me something to bounce my frustrations off of. It was someone to talk to and [Marquette University] really prepared a lot of support for me.”
What was not “awesome” for Heim was the criminal outcome. The two men were never found. They used his debit card a few times over the next hour or so, but then the trail went cold.
When the DPS officers arrived at the apartment after the mugging, Heim was finally safe. The muggers could not get to him. But just because he was physically safe did not mean the damage was done.
It is not easy for Heim to talk about it, but that the mugging really does stay with him on a daily basis while on Marquette’s campus.
“I’m still having trouble with it…It really changes your perception of things,” he said. “I’d hear a noise that usually wouldn’t startle me and I’d jump right out of my seat.”
After the robbery, Heim took steps to avoid being the victim of another traumatic crime. He was much more cognizant of people around him on campus. He used Marquette’s LIMO program. But this year, his vigilance began to wane. But with the recent wave of criminal activity on campus, Heim has largely returned to his vigilant ways.
“You know, I try not to walk home by myself anymore, especially realizing this crime spree recently. I take LIMOS and get rides after the sun goes down,” he said. “Whenever I walk anywhere off of Wisconsin Avenue, my head’s on a swivel.”
In all, Heim says he lost a little over $300 worth of property. Not bad considering he had a pistol pointed at his face for a few minutes. But even worse than the monetary loss for Heim is the loss of innocence.
“The worst thing they did is take away my sense of security,” he said. “Obviously, I wasn’t comfortable here at Marquette.”