Crime rate report may be misleading

Brandon Zeris, Editor-In-Chief

Reported Pitt-Johnstown crimes increased from 145 in 2011 to 195 last year — a 34 percent climb — but, for some, those numbers aren’t cause for concern.

Increased reports of liquor law violation arrests — from 36 in 2011 to 57 last year— and drug law-violation arrests — from 11 in 2011 to 25 last year — led the rise.

Despite crime reports rising, UPJ Police Chief Eric Zangaglia said the numbers are likely less indicative of more crimes occurring and are more reflective of increased crime reporting by UPJ community members, increasing the rate at which offenders are caught.

But, he also said that it’s difficult to single out a particular reason for the data, leaving open the possibility that crimes are occurring more often, rather than offenders simply being caught more frequently.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen more calls over possible concerns of suspicious activity … I think people are taking a more proactive approach to being safe and secure,” Zangaglia said, also crediting campus police officers, housing staff and students with being more vigilant.

Housing and Residence Life Director Mark Dougherty said he and other staff members have told resident assistants and directors to enforce university rules more strictly in the past few years.

That may be one of the reasons crime reports rose, Dougherty said, but the exact reasons are hard to pinpoint.

“It’s probably more random than anything,” he said. “There have been more (drug and alcohol usage) by students … they may have been more obvious in their usage, too.”

Hemlock Hall Resident Director Stephen Torquato said more intense training last year for resident directors and assistants may have had a hand in the results, but he, too, said it seems to be random.

“I think it depends each year on the individual class,” he said.

Many may be relieved that other violent crime reports decreased significantly at the same time.

From 2011 to last year, forcible sex offenses decreased from four to zero, and aggravated assaults fell from seven to zero, according to the university’s annual security and fire safety report.

Zangaglia said good decision-making and better awareness is a probable cause for the decrease.

“It seems that they are more cognizant of their surroundings … they are more aware and walking in groups and taking more lit pathways at night,” he said.

Thefts, burglaries and robberies all increased, however, with the most notable instance being a Dec. 11 attempted robbery outside the Whalley Memorial Chapel by a stocky knife-wielding man with missing teeth who was wearing a black hoodie and orange tennis shoes.

Thefts rose most significantly — from 25 to 40 last year.

Thefts are opportunistic crimes, which can be easily prevented by locking doors and being wary of seemingly trustworthy strangers, Zangaglia said.

“One of our biggest hurdles is that we need to convince students they are not at home and to be a little more skeptical.”

Crimes committed nearby, yet off-campus, were not included in the report. Such incidents include a Sept. 14 shooting at the Richland Township Municipal Building — roughly 200 yards from campus — and a Dec. 9 Bloomfield apartment shooting in which UPJ student David Consiglio was wounded in the abdomen.

Such nearby crimes, as well as two August murders in Moxham, have made and should keep the UPJ community more attentive to danger, according to Zangaglia.

“We’ve seen that our area can be more prone to dangerous acts … I think people are taking a more proactive approach to being safe and secure.”