A string of assaults occurring in Downtown Binghamton has raised concerns among students living off campus, University officials and the Binghamton Police Department (BPD).
According to Capt. Jack Collins and Lt. Martin Burnett of the BPD, there has been a spike in crime on the West Side attributed to a group of high school-age perpetrators. They are said to target all Downtown residents, not just Binghamton University students.
Since the semester began, there have been three separate occasions in which a total of five BU students were victims of assault in the Downtown area.
The most recent of these incidents occurred this past weekend at Grotta Azzurra Pizzeria near Binghamton High School. A male alumnus and current male student were assaulted and both were sent to UHS Wilson Hospital where they were treated for a broken jaw and nose and cheekbone and eye injuries, respectively.
Christopher Rumaczyk, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, was the undergraduate victim of the assault. Rumaczyk said he never felt like he was in danger while walking alone late at night, but that he now feels unnerved at the thought of traveling on less-populated streets.
“I’m not huge, but I regularly go to the gym and would never think of myself, especially along with another male friend, to be considered an ‘easy target’ for something like this,” Rumaczyk said.
According to Rumaczyk, more action must be taken by both BPD and the University to prevent incidents like this.
“The city’s streets are still dangerous enough that you have to live in fear of strangers attacking you totally unprovoked,” Rumaczyk said. “It’s the mix of them not doing enough to clean up the streets where their own students live, coupled with the fact that they offered absolutely no aid of any kind to me; that makes me question the University’s true priorities and concerns.”
However, the police, the University and the Off Campus College Council (OC3) say they are working to support victims of the muggings by providing case managers, contacting students’ professors and loaning money for stolen items to be replaced.
To help promote safety off campus, BU and the BPD created the Police Partnership Initiative last year. Officer Dan Flanders works as the liaison between the University and the BPD to connect students with the police to discuss any safety concerns or incidents.
“We take these matters very seriously and are currently investigating the incidents in question,” Flanders said. “Due to the ongoing investigation, there’s not a lot that I can say at this time but we’ll keep [the University] posted as more information becomes available.”
Despite rumors that the attacks were related to gang initiation rituals taking place during October, Flanders, Collins and Burnett all said that they were not aware of any connection.
Although BPD does not believe Downtown is considerably more dangerous than in previous years, Flanders and the Assistant Dean of Students for Off Campus Programs Milton Chester created a safety message which was emailed to all BU students.
“It goes over some key factors of ways that you can be safe: Be aware of your surroundings at all times, stay alert,” Flanders said. “If you feel uncomfortable in a place or situation, listen to your instincts and leave, get out or call for help.”
According to Lynn Mugodo, president of the OC3 and a junior double-majoring in political science and philosophy, politics and law, the council believes that the BPD and the University need to work harder to address safety.
“OC3 believes that the University needs to do more to ensure that students off campus know that the University is still concerned about safety off campus just as much as on campus,” Mugodo said. “I have already seen a lot of concern being shown this year, but there is still room for improvement.”
Dean of Students April Thompson said that she is working with the OC3 to facilitate a better partnership between the University and off-campus residents, but needs help from students.
“What can we do to help support students in being witnesses and being willing to talk to the police?” Thompson said. “The police really need help from people who see things.”
According to Thompson, the University is looking for suggestions on how to improve security Downtown. One idea was an RA-type system in specific neighborhoods, where a student with RA-style training would be located every few blocks in student areas. Additional ideas include a text messaging alert program to notify students of nearby incidents and a Neighborhood Watch Program comprised of students and residents. Chester also worked with the University to make personal emergency alarms available for purchase in the bookstore.
Michael Keane, a junior majoring in history, said he feels comfortable living Downtown and appreciated having Flanders as a link between BPD and the University.
“I feel like it has done a lot to help the sense of security, to see how UPD works with the city of Binghamton,” Keane said. “Most of the time I don’t feel terribly unsafe.”
Thompson said she always encourages students to come forward with concerns and ideas, since the faculty is constantly looking to help protect students.
“The best ideas come when the students are working in partnership with the administration,” Thompson said. “Student safety is our top priority.”
Three teenagers were arrested on Tuesday for a string of robberies on the West Side of Binghamton, but as of Thursday, BPD could not confirm whether those suspects were responsible for the assaults on BU students.