Waltham crime numbers contest beliefs
Public safety on and around campus is a constant issue for college students and concerned family members. Students are often reminded to lock their doors, use blue light systems and contact University Police at any sign of trouble. Yet for many students, the safety of their college’s host cities off campus remain clouded with uncertainty. Students are often unaware of the reality of safety in their campus neighborhoods, an issue Justice reporters attempted to address.
This week the Justice concluded a monthslong student survey about perceptions of safety in Waltham, providing new insight into the University’s relationship with its host city. A total of 79 students answered a number of questions that attempted to quantify the crimes students had experienced in Brandeis University’s host city. The majority (63 percent) of students polled feel unsafe on Main Street at night, while Moody Street and the neighborhood immediately surrounding the University campus are considered safe by a thin majority (53 percent and 57 percent, respectively) of students.
The Justice compared student perspectives on crime in these three focus areas with a map of all reported crimes in Waltham from July 2017 to March 2018. In contrast to student perceptions of safety, the crime map shows that Moody Street was the site of more than twice as many crimes as each Main Street and the area around campus. Main Street and the area around campus had similar rates of criminal activity.
The survey also asked students if they had experienced any crimes while in Waltham and in which neighborhoods the crimes had occurred. The most common response was sexual harassment; nearly 40 percent reported being sexually harassed within a 15-minute walk of the University campus.
This article, which focuses on the statistical results of the survey and the Waltham crime map, is the first of a two-part series on student public safety in Waltham. Next week’s article will cover responses to the survey results from city officials and the University administration.
Within 15 Minutes’ Walk of Campus
The area immediately surrounding the University campus was considered relatively safe at night by respondents. When asked if they agreed with the statement, “I feel relatively safe walking alone just off campus (within 15 minutes’ walk) at night,” 57 percent either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.
Though respondents felt safer in this area than on Main Street, it did not have less reported crime. 55 crimes were reported in the area between July 2017 and March 2018, compared to 52 on Main Street during the same window. The crimes were mostly nonviolent and property-based: 12 cases of assault or assault and battery were reported, while nonviolent or property-based crimes like theft, drug crimes, and property damage totaled 43. Students reported the highest levels of sexual harassment in the University area. 38 percent of respondents reported being sexually harassed within 15 minutes’ walk of the Brandeis University campus, compared to 29 percent on both Main Street and Moody Street.
Waltham Ward 7 City Councillor Kristine A. Mackin Ph.D ’14 discussed the poll results with the Justice in a phone interview. Ward 7 consists of much of the area immediately surrounding Brandeis University.
Mackin was candid about her experiences with harassment in Waltham. “The nastiest thing anyone’s ever said to me was at the corner of Moody and Main Street,” she said. “It wasn’t surprising to see that number, but it was dismaying.”
Mackin said that she called Waltham Chief of Police Keith MacPherson after receiving the results of the survey to see what could be done about curbing sexual harassment in the city. Unfortunately, she said, the crime is practically impossible to prosecute because of the elusive nature of the perpetrators and the brevity of the crime.
“It doesn’t seem that a lot of governments have the will to go after catcalling as an enforceable criminal complaint, so I don’t see it changing in the near future. Which sucks. I’m not happy about it, but I think it’s going to take a lot more pressure from people from the community to actually try to do something about it,” Mackin said.
The highest number of respondents felt unsafe in the Main Street area of Waltham. When asked if they would feel relatively safe walking on Main Street alone at night, 63 percent of respondents said they disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Contradicting student beliefs, the Waltham crime map showed fewer reported criminal incidents than the neighborhood surrounding the University’s campus.
52 crimes occured in the Main Street area between July 2017 and March 2018, three fewer than the area immediately surrounding the University campus, and the lowest total crimes for any area in the survey. The makeup of these crimes was similar to that of the crimes that occurred around the University campus, though it also included robberies and shoplifting reports.
When asked why students might see the Main Street as more unsafe than other places in Waltham, City Councilor Mackin explained: “There’s less traffic, and it’s darker,” referring to the relatively dim lighting and limited foot traffic in the area compared to Moody Street.
Student perceptions of Moody Street ran counter to the crime data of the area. In contrast to their fears about Main Street, respondents judged Moody Street to be far safer than it actually was. 54 percent of the respondents felt safe walking around Moody Street alone at night.
Next week, a second installment of this article will feature responses from Waltham and Brandeis officials.