Alyssa Barclay, a junior at the University of Oregon, lives near the intersection of 19th Avenue and Alder Street. Barclay says she has experienced a property crime every term since moving there in fall 2018. Last fall, she found her door kicked in, her window screens ripped apart and an intruder in her backyard.
Earlier this term, Barclay and her roomates chased off an intruder who she determined had been in her home for at least three hours — while she and her roommates were also inside.
Barclay is only one of many students who have been affected by off-campus crime, living in the West University area, a neighborhood primarily populated by UO students that extends from Alder Street to High Street and from about 11th Avenue to the mid-20s avenues.
The Eugene Police Department, the University of Oregon Police Department and students work together to prevent crime by sharing information around the university area — but in the West University neighborhood, crime is disproportionately abundant.
Local police department chiefs say the ubiquity of criminal activity in the West University area is caused in part by understaffed police departments and communication breakdowns between EPD and UOPD. But while some students feel uninformed or underserved, police departments have thought-out protocols for when to inform students and types of crime to focus on.
Trespassing, theft and even robberies at gun or knife point have occured in the neighborhood over the past year. During last winter quarter, a rash of eight robberies in two weeks cemented West University’s shady reputation for many students.
“I don’t even feel safe walking around on campus,” Barclay said in light of that infamous two-week robbery spree.
In 2018, approximately 921 crimes were reported in the West University area, according to crimereports.com. Over the same year, South University reported approximately 160 crimes and East University/Fairmount neighborhoods reported about 200 crimes. The vast majority of the reported crimes were property related.
Eugene Police Department Chief Chris Skinner noted that West University’s proximity to downtown Eugene and the amount of commercial establishments in the area, which Skinner said are more likely to be robbed, contribute to the neighborhood’s high level of crime.
However, other issues within EPD are impacting the safety of the neighborhood. Skinner said that EPD is not adequately staffed to handle the needs of the entire city, so his department has to prioritize calls when someone is in immediate danger. As a result, Skinner said his officers do not have time to do the proactive patrols needed to curtail this type of crime.
“We're doing the best we can,” Skinner said. “But I don't want to ever pretend like we're where we need to be when it comes to level of service.”
Grant Klausen, a senior at UO, lives near the intersection of 18th Avenue and Patterson Street. Klausen’s home was broken into last Thanksgiving break and robbers stole about $7,500 worth of items from him and his roomates, including an iPad. He said EPD did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls he and his roomates made to the investigator assigned to his case.
“I understand that they are probably busy and have to prioritize bigger crimes,” Klausen said. “But it would have been nice to feel like they have our back because that was a pretty violating thing to have happen.”
Klausen, who is originally from Seattle, said Eugene has an unsafe reputation among his hometown community. He said that reputation influenced several of his friends’ decisions to not attend UO.
EPD is hiring 10 officers from within the department this year to form what Skinner called a “street team” that would devote time to recurring issues in certain neighborhoods. He also said he is working with the city to secure funding for hiring 87 additional employees to the department, including dispatchers, professional staff and officers. Skinner said such an expansion of his department would help him reach more of the lower priority calls.
“It certainly closes the gap on the number of calls that we can answer,” Skinner said, “when we actually have a big enough patrol staff to have the discretionary time to go to those calls for service.”
UOPD and EPD
UOPD, on the other hand, does have time to do proactive policing of the West University neighborhood that EPD would like to do.
UOPD Chief Matthew Carmichael said the department has steadily increased its presence in the area. He referenced increased patrols on 13th Avenue and the recent Vacation Watch program — which he said would be returning for Spring break.
Carmichael also brought up the community substation on 13th Avenue and Alder Street that will open later this year and a program to increase lighting on particularly dark city blocks.
“I have a responsibility for student safety both on and off campus, and I've always worked that way,” Carmichael said. “But I also have to be respectful of the fact I don't police the city.”
Given West University’s proximity to campus and the amount of students living in the neighborhood, it is no surprise UOPD plays a significant role in policing the area. But due to communication challenges between the two departments, UOPD does not have as significant of a presence as the department or EPD would like.
To understand why it is so difficult for EPD and UOPD to handle West University crime, it is helpful to know the chain of events that go into dispatching an officer to a situation. Skinner said that all 911 calls in Eugene are directed to the dispatch center. If the call is coming from an area on campus, the dispatcher assigns the case to UOPD. If the call originates off campus, it is assigned to EPD.
Skinner said that if EPD has a call overload, they will request UOPD to assist with a case if the crime happened in an area close to campus, such as West University. But because EPD and UOPD are communicating via different radio frequencies, information sharing between the two agencies is less than fluid.
“Once we actually get resources headed in the right direction, we work really, really well together,” Skinner said of the partnership between the two departments. “The mechanism by which we share crime really is fairly archaic. It really comes down to who's talking to who, or who's sending who an email or who is making a phone call to who. And it's not the most efficient and effective way that we can do this.”
Carmichael said UOPD officers regularly respond to EPD’s calls for assistance when UOPD does not have a backlog of its own calls. Carmichael said the more common frustration he has with the West University area is regarding the amount of crimes that go unreported.
Reporting crimes, no matter how small, he said, helps a police department in multiple ways. Reporting a crime informs police departments about crime trends in a given area. Carmichael said many crimes are solved through connecting related events. The more crimes that are reported means a better likelihood of making such connections.
Carmichael added that police resources are prioritized to areas where the most crimes are occurring, so the more crimes that are reported in an area, the more attention that area will receive. He said any off-campus student who needs to report a non-emergency crime can use the EPD online report system.
UOPD communication with students
As one wades further into the lagoon of West University crime, the water becomes especially murky around the issue of alerting students to off-campus criminal activity. UOPD is mandated by a federal law called the Clery Act to report on all crime on UO property — that includes the main campus and all the various off-campus buildings UO controls.
According to the Clery Map, the boundary ends with the sidewalk on the other side of whichever street is on the edge of the boundary. For example, the sidewalk on the other side of Alder Street is still considered within the reporting boundary for UOPD. That means should a crime happen on that sidewalk, UOPD is mandated to list that crime in the daily crime log. But past that sidewalk, no such report is required.
Just because a crime is added to the log does not mean UO community members will receive a campus crime alert via their UO-affiliated email. A “Night Safety” handout provided by UOPD spokesperson Kelly McIver specifies campus crime alerts are only distributed “when certain issues are reported on campus property and immediately adjacent public property that represent a serious and ongoing threat to people on campus property.”
Separate from campus crime alerts are UO Alerts. According to the handout, UO Alerts are an emergency service run by UOPD that are only issued, “when it confirms a significant emergency or dangerous situation on the campus property that involves an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees.” UO Alerts are sent out via text messages and emails.
In the past, Alerts were issued for a suspicious package at Prince Lucien Campbell Hall, an armed robbery on 17th Avenue and Alder Street and an “unknown chemical spill” on the 4th floor of Onyx Bridge.
But when it comes to off-campus crime — even in neighborhoods populated primarily by students — UOPD generally avoids putting out alerts. For example, when gunshots were reported at an off-campus party on 17th Avenue and Ferry Street, neither a campus crime alert or UO Alert were issued.
Carmichael said UOPD does not consistently receive timely and accurate information about crimes near campus, so he wants to avoid pushing out inaccurate alerts.
“I'm not responsible for that area,” Carmichael said. “I don't have control on how it's policed or what goes on. So it's hard for me to put out alerts for what I don't have control over.”
Barclay — who has experienced multiple property crimes — said that part of her frustration with the alerts is that she hears about what crime happened that night through word of mouth — well before any alert is sent out by UOPD, or no alert is sent out at all.
“If it’s a Thursday through Saturday, a lot of my friends are girls who are just walking around,” Barclay said. “If there was just a break-in, I’d like to get an alert, being like, ‘maybe don’t walk down Alder street’ [for instance].”
Carmichael emphasized that the campus crime alerts and UO Alerts are not designed as news reports — the alerts are a safety measure. He said he recommends students interested in the crime happening in the city to visit EPD’s dispatch log or crimereports.com. EPD’s dispatch log is updated on a two-hour delay.
Under particular circumstances, UOPD will issue alerts for off-campus crime. For instance, when the two-week winter-term robbery spree was rampant, Carmichael said in that instance it was necessary to issue alerts to keep students safe. But even then, Carmichael said he was receiving information about those crimes at least two days after they occured.
“They didn’t occur on campus, they were not within the Clery boundary but they were continuing,” he said of the recurring robberies. “So we did put out the alerts.”
Carmichael added that overuse of alerts could induce complacency in students as well.
“[If] I now text [students] every time something occurs within the city or in some proximity to campus, at what point are you gonna stop looking at your phone,” he said. “At what point are you gonna say, ‘Oh there's another stupid alert’?”
Klausen said he finds the alerts useful and has changed his evening plans based on the information provided in the alerts. He said he would not mind receiving additional alerts.
“I think erring on the side of caution is always a good idea, especially when it comes to people’s safety,” Klausen said in reference to alerts.
EPD, UOPD and students all acknowledge West University neighborhood’s propensity for crime. But each party has trouble satisfying the others’ demands. EPD is understaffed, contributing to high rates of crime in the West University area. No comprehensive information-sharing system exists between EPD and UOPD. Therefore, UOPD cannot always alert students to near-campus criminal activity.
“I think that's maybe where the disconnect is,” Skinner said, “where we end up having an incident that potentially impacts campus life, but technically is a Eugene police issue.”