Active crime scene policy leaves students stranded
On January 22, Amanda Herrera struggled to find a place to sleep.
Despite having a long-standing lease with The Marquee Apartments, Herrera couldn't stay in her home because it was in the middle of a crime scene.
Herrera, a UCF junior majoring in advertising and public relations, said she entered the apartment complex that night and found the parking area full of cops and traffic.
“I didn’t think it was anything too serious, sometimes they just go out there and do rounds,” Herrera said.
Herrera drove up to the third floor of the garage, where she was instructed that she needed to park somewhere else. She proceeded to park in The Marquee’s second parking garage, made her way to her apartment and was turned away because it was an active crime scene.
“I ended up spending the night at a friend’s house, but I tried to reach out to Knight News and The Marquee’s Twitter account just to see if they would get back to me,” Herrera said. “And I think at two in the morning the investigation was still ongoing.”
The UCF Police Department's jurisdiction is limited to on-campus residential areas and off-campus student housing operated by the office of Housing and Residence Life, such as the Pointe at Central, Knights Circle and housing at the Rosen campus. UCFPD spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said that to protect these areas and students, UCFPD patrols the complexes and is dispatched to any 911 calls that come in.
UCFPD’s jurisdiction is limited to UCF-affiliated housing, but oftentimes off-campus apartment complexes invite community partnership officers for safety presentations to help protect residents.
Knights Circle and The Pointe at Central received a combined total of 126 incident reports in 2014, according to UCFPD crime statistics. Preventing students from entering their apartments is common.
“They do it because they don’t want to contaminate a crime scene," said Lourdes Clayton, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office. "A lot of times the situation may not be contained, so they don’t want the residents to go in there. So there’s some kind of safety issue that they’re trying to address."
The Marquee takes certain safety measures to enhance the safety of the apartment complex, such as issuing key fobs that only residents have access to, hiring security guards for the garage at night and regularly sending out surveys asking residents what would help them feel safer in the complex. But for some residents, these measures aren’t enough.
“The environment around it is just bad," said Luna Ramirez, a UCF sophomore majoring in writing and rhetoric. "I feel like other places have less security and don’t have the same problems. I just think the environment around us is what influences us a lot."
Some residents, such as Stephanie Cabrera, a sophomore biology major, think that while the management team may be “friendly and really easy to talk to,” the community itself could improve.
“[Once] I got here and there were cop cars parked in front of my parking garage and the entrance to it was covered,” Cabrera said. “I felt uncomfortable having to park in the other garage and then going to my apartment, so I didn't go home that night because I felt scared and unsafe.”
Despite this experience, Cabrera did resign her lease for next year due to its affordability and proximity to campus.
Another resident, UCF junior majoring in radio-television production, Erica Cabo, had her window broken earlier this year and struggled with feeling safe in her complex. Cabo lived in Phase 2, which is supposed to be the newer side of The Marquee.
“The whole window shattered and I called the cops,” Cabo said. “They didn’t actually look at my window. They just said it was fireworks or something else, and I shouldn’t be worried about it. So I didn’t sleep in my room that night, I slept in a friend’s house, and when I came back the next morning the window was broken.”
After reporting this incident, Cabo explained it took about five days to get the window fixed and during that time she did not feel safe sleeping in her room. Cabo said that security does not come to her side of the apartment complex unless there is a reported incident.
“I kept hearing things being thrown at my window and it turns out people were egging our side of the building every night after that,” Cabo said. “So I would never be able to sleep, and I told security to come stay back there, and they said no, that that’s not a part of their rounds.”
Since the incident, Cabo has sublet her apartment and no longer lives at The Marquee.
Herrera said a lack of communication between residents and management prevents a safe environment for residents.
“I 100 percent believe in transparency," Herrera said. "I feel like if we’re living there we have a right to know what’s going on, and especially if it’s things that can endanger us."
When asked for a comment on the safety of residents, The Marquee did not respond.
Samantha Bequer is a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future.