Campus Security a Top Priority around Johns Hopkins University

BALTIMORE (AP) - It's the nation's most prestigious medical research institute, endowed with about $1.9 billion in government and private funding. But Johns Hopkins University also has become a place where it's easy to find victims of crime.

Even during the school's recent winter break, when a trickle of students stop by a library coffee shop, it doesn't take long to hear about areas around the university's Baltimore campus that change radically after dark. Students describe a renowned institution of higher learning besieged by crime that spills over from nearby areas.

``I've had friends mugged at gunpoint,'' said Michelle Slater, a 30-year-old graduate student whose apartment was broken into during her first year at the university. ``It's really shocking.''

The killing of a Hopkins senior Jan. 23 has underscored the sense of vulnerability students feel in a city where there has been virtually a murder a day since the beginning of the new year.

Linda Trinh, 21, became the second Hopkins student murdered in nearby off-campus housing in less than a year. She was found in her apartment Jan. 23 across the street from the Homewood campus that about 4,000 students occupy daily. No arrests have been made, and police said the killing by asphyxiation of the popular student from Silver Spring, Md., appeared to be one of ``opportunity.''

Students, many just returning from winter break, planned a rally Monday night in front of university President William Brody's home to encourage school officials to beef up security.

University officials have been working to address security concerns for the growing campus in a tough urban setting since last April when a security consultant made his first visit to Johns Hopkins.

A week later, 20-year-old Christopher Elser was dead, stabbed to death in a random act of violence by an intruder inside an apartment house that had been rented to members of his fraternity. Elser's murderer also hasn't been found, and his family has offered a reward for information leading to an arrest.

``I don't feel safe anywhere around here,'' said Todd Smith, an undergraduate whose car was stolen near the campus.

The university is speeding up plans to install surveillance cameras, a suggestion by iXP Corp., the consultant hired by Hopkins to make the campus more secure. Plans call for installing cameras on campus as well as at off-campus areas with heavy student traffic.

The school is exploring other measures to bolster security and already has improved lighting and an emergency telephone system on campus, Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for the university said.

Students have noticed improvements at nearby off-campus apartments where doormen have been hired.

But a sustained and intensive effort, like those at some other schools, will be needed to bring about permanent changes.

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which was shaken by two murders just off campus in the mid-1990s, embarked on a large, long-term initiative that included partnerships with neighborhood leaders and residents to revive West Philadelphia.

Penn has 62 video cameras to monitor streets, and as many as seven people to operate the cameras from a control room.

``It's very intensive,'' said Maureen Rush, vice president for public safety at the university, where she noted that crime has fallen drastically in recent years.

The University of Southern California also uses community outreach programs to help fight crime around its south-central Los Angeles campus.

``We have actually embraced the surrounding community because so many of our students live there,'' said Gloria Graham, who oversees the crime prevention and community education unit at the university.

Spelman College in downtown Atlanta, literally, is a gated community, Renita Mathis, a spokeswoman for the historically black woman's college said.

``People who enter onto Spelman's campus come through a gate, and at that gate we have police officers who check to see if cars have either a faculty or student ID or if they are on campus for work-related or meeting-related things,'' she said.

O'Shea said Johns Hopkins has been engaged with community-building projects for years.

Kip Elser, Christopher's father, said he hopes local officials and the university will work together to keep students safe in a city that has changed drastically since he attended the school in the early 1970s. Elser noted that his son and Trinh were both murdered inside apartments, not while walking dangerous streets after dark.

``For an environment to exist where someone walks into a house with the intent of robbing and being willing to murder someone, that doesn't change the fact that that is an environmental problem in the city,'' Elser, of Camden, S.C., said. ``If somebody gets mugged for walking down the street, maybe that's the kid's fault for not paying attention, not going together (with someone). But to be asleep in your bed?''

Earlier this month, not far from the Charles Village neighborhood near the university, a woman who has been outspoken and helpful to police against drug dealers was forced to relocate after her home was firebombed. Six people were arrested in connection with the crime.

Students say they are aware of the city's dangers, and they know the university is trying to make the campus more secure.

``I feel like the school is extremely vigilant,'' Slater said. ``We do try to be careful, but I think there's only so much you can do.''

The university has security orientation programs for freshmen and transfer students and provides programs for students who move off campus. The university underscores the difference between living on campus, where students need identification cards to get into buildings, and living off-campus, when students sometimes only need a key.

``We do understand they are changing environments,'' O'Shea said. ``It's a significant change. That is a transitional thing that people need to get used to when they go into off-campus housing.''