UCF students concerned for safety in 'Greek Ghetto'
Across from UCF's main campus of lively college students is a neighborhood where fear has begun to roam the streets.
The apartments on Khayyam and Aristotle avenues, connected by Mendel and Socrates drives, serve as homes to six off-campus fraternity houses. The streets connect to form less than a quarter-mile radius around The Marquee apartment complex, formerly Sterling Central, which has become synonymous with crime around UCF. The area is also commonly referred to as the "Greek Ghetto."
According to Orange County documents obtained by the Central Florida Future, the sheriff's office responded to 17 incidents in 2014 — such as armed robbery, burglary and stolen vehicles — compared with 12 in 2013 on the above streets.
In March, witnesses heard a man yell "brim blood" during an alleged shooting in front of the Phi Delta Theta house on Khayyam Avenue. Still under investigation, the incident was possibly gang related, according to Orange County Sheriff's Office documents.
Due to recent crime, fear and a call to action have risen from these off-campus fraternity members.
Ryan Hunihan, president of Beta Theta Pi, expressed that the crime around his fraternity house has affected the members' actions around the neighborhood, specifically at night.
"I think the crime around our house, as well as other fraternities, students and neighbors, is overall a worrisome thought," Hunihan said. "At night, you have to be careful, even if you are just walking to your car down the street; it's always in the back of your mind."
The junior finance major said over the past year, more outdoor lighting around the house has been introduced, as well as an update on security each semester.
"As more and more news of crimes occur, it does make you question our conditions," Hunihan said.
Recent incidents in the area have sparked the question of gang-related violence. But UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said although there are gangs present — as there are in every Metropolitan area of the country — he has not seen a number of gang-related incidents.
"We are cognizant of [gangs], we monitor them, we track them, we work with the sheriff's office … but we just don't see the gang-related violence as of yet," Beary said.
The term "gang" may be used in the area in the wrong fashion, as Beary said gangs are really just a loose-knit association identifying with their street. Gangs in the area technically meet the definition that most are familiar with, but do not compare to more serious gangs in other areas of the country.
"In Apopka, you've got the 18 Street Gang and in Oviedo you have the Oviedo Soldiers and you have all these gangs now that are emerging, but they're not the Crips and the Bloods," Beary explained.
While some students prefer to move off campus for more privacy and proximity from the school atmosphere, some have considered the differing crime rates off campus.
Jacob Milich, president of Phi Delta Theta, said most members of his fraternity would prefer to live on campus due to the safety and advantages that on-campus housing provides.
"We are very aware of the crime that often takes place in our neighborhood, particularly the recent incident that included a shot fired right in front of our house," said Milich, a junior accounting major.
To protect the students and Greek organizations off campus, Milich said more needs to be done, such as implementing better neighborhood infrastructure, more street lighting and increased police patrols.
Because the neighborhood is outside the jurisdiction of the UCF Police Department, it is up to OCSO to make sure the area is safe.
"We are less comfortable living where we do given the recent increase in violent crime that has taken place in our neighborhood," he said.
Milich expressed that he thinks it is safer to live in a fraternity house on campus, rather than where he currently lives, and others have agreed.
Sagar Mistry, one of the marketing chairs of Zeta Beta Tau, can agree that living off campus decreases the safety for students.
"The increase in crime around our area is increasing exponentially, and it's putting our brothers and other students at risk," said Mistry, a junior computer science major.
President of the fraternity Brian Zagrocki said he thinks it is a priority for UCF to address the crime in the UCF area.
"Petitioning for better lighting in our area and more patrols from [OCSO] would be helpful in the short term," said Zagrocki, a junior social science education major. "My fraternity has been directly targeted by violence, and this safety concern must be dealt with immediately before more UCF students are put in danger."
Concerning student safety, recently elected Student Body President Cait Zona explained the she and her Vice President Jarell Jones have also looked into increasing lighting near the "Greek Ghetto." However, that's something that would require a collaboration between students and homeowners, as well as the county.
For Phi Gamma Delta President Daniel Wind, however, his fraternity has not seemed to have issues with being located off campus.
"We are informed as students, via the UCF Alert, whenever there is a crime reported in the area," said Wind, a junior health sciences pre-clinical major. "We are unaware of any criminal activity that may go unreported mainly due to our location off campus."
Although the fraternity has discussed the possibility of moving on campus, Wind said their thoughts for moving have never revolved around safety.
"All of the brothers currently living in the house have not expressed concern regarding their safety while living in the house," he said. "I have never felt uncomfortable being at the chapter house at night."
With the established Adopt-a-Cop program at UCF — a partnership between UCF PD and several Greek organizations — the comfort of having the assigned officer's contact information is what Wind said helps build unity between Greek organizations and the university.
The program started at UCF several years ago, but was revived last year as it had lost steam throughout the years, said UCF PD public information officer Courtney Gilmartin.
"Participating fraternities and sororities are assigned an officer from UCF PD, and that officer serves as a safety resource for the organization," Gilmartin said. "The idea is that we're removing any barriers between Greek students and the police department, and opening the lines of communication.
"We want students to come to us when something's not right, and we want to be there for them when they have questions or concerns."
Crime rates are increasing in such areas, however, but Beary said UCF PD and OCSO are working together to keep the area safe and under their radar.
Rachel Stuart is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.