UCLA Area Crime Up From Last Year

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — So far this year, University of California-Los Angeles police have released 12 alerts notifying the Westwood, L.A., community of especially concerning crimes.

In all of 2005, eight such alerts were released.

The disparity reflects a recent increase in minor criminal activity in the UCLA area, ranging from the string of sexual batteries in January to this month’s peeper incidents in some Westwood apartments.

The UCPD has reacted with some targeted patrols and with the release of warnings to the Westwood community.

Some students said they were alarmed by the recent spike in the crime rate.

“I’m definitely concerned, especially about the ones where people are actually breaking into homes,” said Karen Paulson, a second-year biology student.

But Nancy Greenstein, director of police community services at the UCPD, said she does not think the upsurge in criminal activity is particularly unusual.

“If you look back (at crime trends) over the past few years, you’ll find peaks and valleys,” she said. “It’s cyclical.”

She noted that even the crimes occurring in Westwood today are themselves not without precedent.

For example, although the string of sexual batteries earlier this year, attributed to the so-called “Groper,” drew much attention, Greenstein pointed out that a series of similar incidents occurred in Westwood parking garages a few years ago.

She said the recurring nature of this type of crime makes it hard to pinpoint any specific reason for the latest increase.

“It’s … hard to speculate,” she said. “Unless you catch somebody, you really don’t know.”

So far, most of the suspects in recently reported crimes remain at large. Police never caught the suspect in the January sexual battery incidents.

The police are also still looking for a suspect in the recent peeper incidents. In the past week, another such incident was reported, bringing the total number of crimes police are investigating as possibly connected to six.

Three batteries were also reported this weekend, including two that allegedly occurred in the emergency room at the UCLA Medical Center.

But despite the increase in these types of incidents, some students say they do not believe the area on and around campus is particularly dangerous.

“I feel pretty safe,” said Robert Castillo, a third-year art history and French student, adding that he is not very concerned about non-violent crimes.

But Greenstein said students should not take their safety for granted, even in a place like Westwood, which has a reputation as a relatively safe neighborhood.

“People become comfortable, and sometimes it takes an incident to remind them that we’re in an urban area,” she said.

The UCPD has repeatedly asked students to be vigilant, and to call the police if they see any suspicious activity, but Greenstein said police also have more concrete measures in place to prevent crime.
“We look at what’s happening and we direct patrols to that area,” she said, adding that the UCPD also shares information with the Los Angeles Police Department.

The LAPD has become more involved in Westwood in recent months as well, conducting investigations into a series of hate-related vandalisms, as well as three prowler incidents. In both cases, the LAPD upped patrols in the Westwood area in an effort to catch the perpetrators.

Still, Castillo said he does not think the increased police presence has been effective, adding that he thinks police often end up targeting students who do not pose a threat.

But Paulson said she thinks the crimes do merit the police response.

“I would rather have more police around than have my house broken into, or have people being assaulted.”