Students voice safety concerns

by Beacon Staff • February 22, 2006

But instead of patrolling the streets of the Theatre District area making drug arrests, she stood in the Bill Bordy Theater and gave Emerson students a rare opportunity to speak directly to the woman in charge of the city's police force.,Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole returned to her former beat Tuesday evening.

But instead of patrolling the streets of the Theatre District area making drug arrests, she stood in the Bill Bordy Theater and gave Emerson students a rare opportunity to speak directly to the woman in charge of the city's police force.

O'Toole's visit, which was moderated by Linda Peek Schacht, the chair of the organizational and political communication department, allowed students to voice concerns about issues and ask questions of O'Toole and Captain Bernard O'Rourke, who commands the area that includes Chinatown and the Theatre District.

Area safety was the predominant concern of the students who asked questions during the hour-long visit.

Mariana Velasco, an organizational and political communication major from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, asked what it would take for the police department to see the area around Emerson as a "big challenge."

"I've never felt so unsafe as in Boston," Velasco, who said she has seen people being beaten up and stabbed from her 40 Boylston St. apartment, told O'Toole. "It's an everyday thing."

Other students brought attention to what they perceive as an increase in drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves around Boylston and Tremont streets.

O'Toole and O'Rourke said that while overall crime in the city dropped by 7 percent last year, violent crime and juvenile crime has increased.

According to O'Toole, 85 percent of violent crime takes place in three neighborhoods: Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan.

In the area around Emerson, however, O'Rourke said he has seen more prostitution arrests, while O'Toole said the department has noticed "a huge increase" in the theft of iPods, cell phones and other electronics.

Both said that the amount of drugs in the area has also grown, in part because of efforts of community groups in Chinatown to push dealers out of that neighborhood.

The displaced dealers and users have been forced out of this area and into the Theatre District, O'Rourke said.

Lucas Lee, a senior audio/radio major, voiced concerns similar to Velasco's.

"You can't feel safe here," he told the commissioner.

O'Toole said that while crime decreased last year, the perception of crime has not.

"Communication is key," she said. "We need to balance perception and reality, and when we determine reality we address it head on."

Velasco said she felt O'Toole's visit was worthwhile, because she was able to alert the commissioner to the constant violence that she says surrounds her apartment building.

"I have done my job," Velasco said. "I'm not sure what will be done, but hopefully we can move from theory to practice."

Lee, however, felt that the forum could have been more productive.

"I was upset with the way it was set up," he said. "When I got up there, they were like you have one minute, I basically gave my comment and didn't get to ask my question."

Lee was concerned with recent thefts around the 7-11 on the corner of Stuart and Tremont streets and apparent lack of police presence in the area.

O'Toole said the Boston Police Department is working with a few hundred officers less than it needs.

The number of officers on patrol in each district is determined by the crime statistics in that area, O'Toole said. This results in a decrease of visible police presence in other areas, including District A1, she said.

However, O'Rourke said after midnight, eight to 10 officers patrol District A1, and last year responded to 75,000 radio calls, the most in the city.

Lee said he thinks patrols must increase because students are in danger.

"It's a growing campus . all we are is prey [to criminals]," he said, "We are non-athletic kids, we have expendable cash . they [criminals] may be there for the drugs, but their side project is to harp on us."