Students, police work during summer months to combat campus crime

While the lazy days of summer might be carefree for many, police officers and even some students were still at work informing summer Champaign-Urbana residents about local crime and creating new technology to combat it.

While the type of campus crime often stays the same, some things change during the summer months, said University Deputy Chief of Police Jeff Christensen in May.

“Due to less people around, there’s more opportunity,” he said. “Patterns of crime may shift a bit.”

There were five campus wide crime alerts issued from May to August for such offenses as home invasion, criminal sexual abuse, indecent exposure, robbery, aggravated robbery and criminal sexual assault.

The alerts were for areas north of Green Street, including the intersections of Wright and Green streets and Wright and Stoughton streets.

Christensen said it was important for people to try and remain safe during the summer, be vigilant about their surroundings and stick closely to friends during late hours.

“Work with us. If you see something suspicious, call 911,” Christensen said. “If you see criminal activity, report it right away.”

During the summer, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District usually cuts down or puts its services on hold, with bus routes running less frequently and ending earlier in the night. This reduction in services also includes SafeRides, a program that offers rides to students throughout the night.

But for the first time in 19 years, the SafeWalks program continued during the break. This program is made up of University students who escort individuals home late at night.

“One of their primary functions is to help be extra eyes and ears to the campus,” said University Police Sgt. Joan Fiesta in May. “With a loss of the student population, there is a loss of potential witnesses.”

In an effort to make the University safer, some student groups participated in a campus Data Sciences Summer Institute program. The students created digital systems to make information easily accessible for people inexperienced with information technology. Student groups found search systems for data including experts, images and locations of recent criminal activity.

Matt Gornick and Blaine Fahey, both University alumni, worked on the crime location project and came out with Illinicrime.com earlier this year. The website tracks the location of crimes committed on campus using data from University Police Department’s Crime Alert notices.

At the institute, they presented a demonstration of a system that tracks local crime in a similar way using a larger number of crime reports reported by the Champaign Police Department. Users may search for a specific crime, and the locations of the more recently committed crimes are displayed on a Google Maps image along with other information regarding the incident.

“You can take the crime information when you’re going out and if you’re coming back late at night, knowing where crime has happened in the past,” Gornick said in July. “And hopefully, we would be able to provide some information on how to get back to your apartment safely.”