Danger Near the Dome

South Bend crime in prominent student housing areas

By Kevin Culligan and Jacob Zinkula

Mark Giannini’s door was locked, but his window was not.

Late one night in February of this year, a burglar climbed into Giannini’s house on East Washington Street in South Bend, IN through the unlocked window. The perpetrator took a MacBook Pro, a 50-inch flat screen TV, and two PlayStation 4 gaming consoles (along with games and controllers). The value of the stolen items exceeded $2,000.

Giannini is a senior at the University of Notre Dame, and he is just one of many Notre Dame students that have been the victims of crimes in prominent off campus housing areas. After living a mile and a half north of campus at University Edge apartments last year, Giannini moved to a six-person house a mile and a half south of campus on East Washington Street this year.

Mark Giannini’s house on East Washington Street

“Overall, I feel safe since I really don’t personally see crime happen except for this one incident,” Giannini said. “But after [the burglary] happened, we all had a lot of mixed emotions. Clearly, anger at our items being stolen was one of them, but even more prevalent was an overall feeling of violation as someone entered our home and without anyone knowing was able to steal our belongings.”

“I feel that in the grand scheme of things we were very lucky that nobody was injured and a lot of items that could have been taken were not probably due to the intruder’s urgency to leave,” Giannini said. “However, it was definitely a wake up call that these things can happen and we just have to be more mindful going forward.”

Notre Dame is a famously Catholic school that disciplines students for such minor violations as being in opposite-gender dorms after hours. But the city of South Bend that contains Notre Dame has a much different story.

According to AreaVibes.com, a website that compiles several forms of data on living locations in the United States, the city had 6,055 total instances of crime in 2015. That’s 112 percent higher than the national average of 2,860, and it puts South Bend in just the eighth percentile of U.S. cities in terms of lowest crime rate.

South Bend crime has become increasingly relevant to Notre Dame as growing numbers of students choose to live off campus in their junior and senior years at the university.

The number of seniors living off campus has risen steadily for the past 20 years, with a full 63 percent of seniors living off campus in the 2016-17 school year. The amount of juniors living off campus, meanwhile, has remained steady at around 15 percent.

“In the past 10 years or more, the off-campus housing market targeted at Notre Dame students has grown,” said Laura Connelly, Assistant Director for Assignments and Data Analysis for the Office of Housing. “Since students tend to want to live with their friends, more students than in the past have decided to move off campus because of where their friends are going.”

Giannini cited several reasons why he and other students move off campus; lower costs, bigger living spaces and less supervision all play a role to some degree. But regardless of the reasons, having more students off campus makes it more and more difficult to turn a blind eye to South Bend’s crime rates.

There’s a number of popular housing areas that Notre Dame students flock to in their junior and senior years. We took a look at some of the most popular student housing areas to see what crime has occurred there in the past six months.

The area east of campus includes options such as The Overlook at Notre Dame, Irish Crossings, Irish Row and Irish Flats, according to offcampus.nd.edu, Notre Dame’s official site for off campus student housing. CrimeReports.com is a site that provides updated crime reports from law enforcement agencies through a map interface. According to CrimeReports, there have been 127 incidents of crime in the past six months in approximately a half-mile radius east of campus. Of the 127, over half were theft (60 thefts, 20 thefts from vehicles). The next most common crime was breaking and entering, with 24 incidents.

The Overlook at Notre Dame

Just south of campus, there are a bevy of student houses, as well as apartment options such as Notre Dame Campus Housing, the Aurum and the Foundry. There have been 170 incidents there in the past six months within a half-mile radius. Again, almost half of the crimes were forms of theft (31 thefts, 49 thefts from vehicles), but whereas the east section had only 9 assault crimes, this southern area had 43 reported assaults in the last six months.

Finally, the quarter-mile radius area even further south of campus includes plenty of student houses, including the very popular East Washington Street location. Here, there have been 34 incidents, 20 of which have been classified as thefts (eight thefts, 12 thefts from vehicles).

There is also substantial student housing north of campus in locations such as University Edge, but that property runs into Roseland, IN, which does not have crime data maps available. This StoryMap shows the locations and statistics for each of the three areas with data available.

Among the three housing areas with available crime data, there were a total of 13 drug-related crimes and six robberies in the last six months. Of the 331 total crimes, 62 were classified as “violent,” 243 as “property,” and 26 as “quality of life.”

 

Data from CrimeReports.com, Graphic made using DataWrapper.com

These crime statistics might just be numbers in themselves, but there are real people like Giannini and Notre Dame junior Kevin Mickan that are significantly impacted by these incidents.         

Mickan, a Notre Dame junior, has been the victim of two separate off-campus crimes. Earlier this semester, a man entered his University Edge apartment during the day and stole a laptop and a PlayStation.

The more disturbing incident, though, occurred during Mickan’s freshman year.

Late one weekend night, Mickan and two friends were walking back to campus along Notre Dame Ave south of campus. When they reached Sorin St., two teenage boys approached them.

“After about a minute, one kid pulled a gun on us,” Mickan said.The scariest part about it was that they were just as scared, if not more scared than we were.”

“Right before they left, the second kid pulled a gun too,” Mickan said.We managed to convince them only to take our cash and our phones because we told them we needed our IDs and could easily cancel our credit cards. Once we got back to campus, we immediately borrowed someone’s phone and called NDSP/911. They then came and took down all of our statements.”

Mickan said his sense of security was impacted by these crimes.

“Even after these, I still feel relatively safe moving off campus, depending where I live,” he said. “But I would not live in most areas of South Bend. Next year I am living in Irish Crossings, where I feel very safe since it is a nice area around lots of other students. If I lived near East Washington Street or areas close by, I probably would not feel that safe.”

Incidents like these are major causes for concern for both Notre Dame and the city of South Bend. South Bend Common Council member Dr. Ferlic is among those that feel strongly Notre Dame must partner with the city in order to curtail crime in South Bend.

“Our mayor [Pete Buttigieg] cannot succeed as a mayor or any future political office unless he adequately addresses the violence that exists in South Bend, and many of us do not believe it can succeed without collaboration with Notre Dame,” Ferlic told the South Bend Tribune in 2014.

That same year, though, the Tribune reported that Notre Dame was not interested in a proposal to have Notre Dame Security Police patrol areas surrounding campus, preferring to leave that duty to South Bend Police. But the university recognizes the need to do everything possible to keep the significant amount of off-campus students safe.

“Notre Dame is invested in caring for our students who live off campus as well as those who live on campus,” Morgan said. “[We] just recently hired is a full time staff member in the Office of Housing who will work primarily with off-campus students.

“This is a new role for us, and the employee begins this summer. We all look forward to the ways that this role will grow and serve our community.”

South Bend is clearly taking the crime issue seriously as well. On April 26, city leaders debuted a new crime data portal for people in the community, according to a WSBT report. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg hopes the data portal, which includes interactive graphs and maps that depict the type and location of local crime, will help to build trust between the community and law enforcement.

“We really think we’ll do better if we know that residents are empowered to ask questions, even difficult questions, based on the facts they get about what’s going on in the community that we share,” Buttigieg said.

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