Last semester, numerous UCF students were victims of armed robbery in separate incidents at The Marquee apartment complex. Last month, a dead body was found in a Campus Crossings apartment. Last week, a woman was put to the ground and forced to disrobe by a man.
These recent incidents, combined with dozens of others, have led students to question the safety of the UCF area. But are those questions warranted? The entire news section in this week's issue of the Central Florida Future delves into the issue of campus safety, with input from the Orange County Sheriff's Office, UCF Police Department, SGA presidential candidates and a local politician.
Crime rose 75 percent in the area surrounding the UCF main campus, according to Orange County documents obtained by the Future.
The Orange County Sheriff's Office's Crime Analysis Unit tracks common violent and property crimes in the area. The numbers include incidents from the intersection of Alafaya Trail and Colonial Drive, north to where Alafaya Trail and McCulloch Road intersect. It also spans from the UCF main campus west to Rouse Road.
Of the 15 crimes that the CAU tracks — all but two including homicide and exposure of sexual organs — saw increases in 2014.
"I'm a firm believer that the crime that's happening in Orange County, that's happening in Seminole County, it's just a matter of time before it happens here," UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said. "When we see those patterns emerging off campus we start dealing with them getting prepared on campus and directing our personnel to reduce crime."
Despite the increases, Capt. Stephen Garrison of OCSO feels that the area around UCF is indeed safe — so safe that he said he would feel comfortable sending his own daughter to UCF when she is of age.
"I think that this area of the county, particularly around UCF, is pretty safe," said Garrison, the commander of Sector 2 for OCSO — where UCF, Full Sail University and Valencia College are all located."There is always going to be crime in our society, but when you compare the population versus the actual number of incidents that occur, it's a very small number."
While crime figures may be on the rise, what makes the UCF area unique for law enforcement is that much of the crime doesn't happen in public places such as street corners or bars.
"It's actually rather rare for somebody just walking down the street to be involved in a crime or to be victimized by someone," Garrison said. "There is typically a relationship or an alcohol-induced event or some other problem that creates most of the crime in the area."
In 2014, all crimes that are tracked by the CAU saw increases with the exception of homicide and exposure. Homicides stayed equal with two reported in 2013 and 2014, and exposure decreased by 57 percent.
But the truth may also go beyond the numbers. As Garrison pointed out, in 2014 there was a 72 percent increase in aggravated battery. Despite the increase, only 12 percent occurred in a bar, club or business. The majority occurred at a residence, and typically occurred between people with some kind of a relationship.
However, strong-arm robberies increased by 44 percent and armed robbery increased by 79 percent in 2014, the documents state.
Of crimes tracked by the CAU, 74 percent of incidents in the UCF area were burglary — residential, commercial or auto. Many of them are as simple as students leaving doors to apartments or vehicles unlocked with valuables in plain sight. Orange County deputies and UCF Police officers encourage students to secure windows and doors to vehicles and homes at all times.
To combat the rise in crime, since taking over Sector 2 — which encompasses East Orange County — in September, Garrison has created a special squad of deputies focused specifically to the Alafaya Trail corridor and the apartment complexes near UCF. Garrison said that crime has actually decreased in the beginning of 2015 as compared with the same time period in 2014.
Although the UCF Police Department is tasked with patrolling a tight area surrounding the campus, Beary is aware of crime in the surrounding area and works closely with his officers to try to keep it from spreading to the main campus.
Despite the influx of crime in the surrounding area, Beary believes that the UCF campus is a safe campus. In the recently released University Crime Report, violent crime decreased 3.3 percent while property crime saw a 10 percent increase.
"If you look at our numbers and then you look at the zone that we're within Orange County Sheriff's jurisdiction, if you look at just this zone and you see their crime numbers, it will jump off the page at you just how good of a job we really do," Beary said.
Ryan Gillespie is the Editor-in-Chief at the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @rgillespiecff or email him at RyanG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.
Caroline Glenn is the News Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @byCarolineGlennor email her at CarolineG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.