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Beneath Its Ivy, Cambridge Can Still Be a Dangerous Place

CAMBRIDGE THE OTHER SIDE Second in a two part series


Having grown up on Chicago's South Side, James L. Tierney '96 knows a tough neighborhood when he sees one.

He had already been mugged once before he came to Cambridge.

After arriving at Harvard in 1992, he did not expect to be mugged again.

But last October he was attacked and beaten outside his Mather House residence.

As Tierney walked home with his girl-friend on a Friday night in October, five men confronted the couple and asked for money.

When Tierney refused, one of the men punched him in the face. He tried to fight back, but the five men began to beat him repeatedly and one of the assailants pulled out a knife.

The attack left Tierney with a cut over his right eye and multiple bruises on his face and head.

But it did not change his perception of Cambridge.

Like other Harvard students, Tierney maintains that the city by the Charles is relatively safe.

"I still consider Cambridge to be a lot safer than the neighborhood I went to high school in," Tierney says. "It was an unfortunate incident that could have happened anywhere."

Although local law enforcement officials agree with Tierney's view, they urge caution, especially when traveling the city's streets late at night.

"You make a serious mistake if you think Cambridge is a safe place at night," says attorney Burton E. Atkins. "It's not."

Cambridge was the ninth most violent city in Massachusetts in 1995, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

However, law enforcement officials stress that the city is relatively safe--arrests were well below the average for cities with populations of approximately 100,000 residents.

"Cambridge is unique," says Sergeant Detective Patrick G. Nagle, acting spokesperson for the Cambridge Police Department (CPD). "It's hard to compare to cities of similar size."

However, crime reports show Cambridge is not as safe as Boston's other more affluent Suburbs, like Newton or Wellesley.

Last year, Newton, with a population of 82,500 residents, had only 21 violent crimes reported per 1,000 residents. While Cambridge, with a population of 96,000 residents, had 124 violent crimes reported per 1,000 residents.

According to Nagle, violent crime is an unfortunate--and inescapable--truth for American cities in the 1990s, and despite the presence of two world-famous institutions of higher learning, Cambridge is no exception.

"This is a city. We have city-related crimes. Not as many as most, thank God, but we will have city-related crime," Nagle says.

Violent Crime

Violent crime levels have been relatively constant in Cambridge over the last 20 years, averaging 860 violent crimes a year. Violent crime, as defined by the UCR, includes murder, rape, robbery and assault.

Atkins has practiced criminal law in Cambridge for 32 years and can remember the days when Cambridge was a little less violent.

"When we were kids growing up in Cambridge, we didn't lock our doors," Atkins says. "Violent crimes were rare. Now violent crimes are the norm."

Violence especially by young people is becoming all too common in the city, local observers say.

Just two days ago, a 19-year-old man was shot three times outside the CambridgeSide Galleria shopping mall. Cambridge police are looking for three Hispanic males who ran towards Kendall Square after the shooting Wednesday night.

The man was shot three times, according to published reports.

Atkins says that another form of violent crime which seems to be on the rise in Cambridge is domestic violence. Last year, Atkins handled twice as many assault cases as he usually does in a year, a majority of which were domestic assaults.

"It's like an epidemic," he says.

Atkins' experience is supported by citywide statistics: Domestic assaults are the most common type of assault in Cambridge.

After last year's much-ballyhooed O.J. Simpson case, the issue of domestic violence has attracted national attention.

In Cambridge, domestic violence numbers are up, according to Nagle, because residents have become more aware of domestic violence, and victims are now more likely to report their assaulter.

Drug Arrests on the Rise

Drug-related arrests in Cambridge also increased 9 percent in 1995 from the previous year.

Nagle points out that drug-related crime is on the rise across the nation and that Cambridge simply reflects an unfortunate trend.

"The problem with drugs is bad all over, not just in Cambridge," he says.

According to the 1995 Cambridge Police Department's Annual Crime Report, combating drug activity in the Area 4 neighborhood has been one of the number one priorities of the Vice/Narcotics Unit.

The area surrounding the Bishop Allen Drive intersection in the Area 4 neighborhood produced the highest percentage of drug arrests in the city, the report stated.

Possession of marijuana was the most common drug arrest in 1995, with 66 arrests. Sale of cocaine was the second highest, with 48 arrests.

Although drug-related arrests are not counted in the violent crime index, drug crime and violent crime are closely linked, experts say.

According to attorney Richard M. Doyle Jr., "[Drugs and violence] go together, definitely. Usually, a person carries a gun because they're dealing drugs and they want to protect their stash or themselves."

Although Cambridge has seen a decline in handgun since its peak in the mid eighties, Doyle maintains that it is still worrisome.

"It's still a problem," he adds. "And it will continue to be a problem as long as there are guns on the street."

Life in a Big City

In recent months, students have become increasingly aware that living in a big city can be dangerous.

Three widely publicized assaults last fall focused student attention on campus safety.

On October 10, Tierney was assaulted near Mather House on Flagg Street. Two weeks later, the Harvard Police Department issued a security alert revealing that in early September a student was raped at 10 a.m. while jogging alongside Memorial Drive. The police alert also referred to a second female student who reported that, while jogging along Memorial Drive, she returned to campus because she was followed by a stranger.

A few days later, James R. Russell, Mashtots professor of Armenian studies at the Kennedy School of Government, announced that he and an acquaintance had been the targets of an attempted assault near the river in September. In a letter to The Crimson dated November 1, Russell criticized the Harvard administration and the HUPD for downplaying safety concerns.

Students say the three assaults have made them more safety conscious.

"It's definitely changed the way I approach life in the Square," says Sheridan J. Pauker '96-'97.

In November, Pauker and several other undergraduate women concerned about the recent violence formed Harvard Alliance for Safety Training and Education (H.A.S.T.E.).

H.A.S.T.E. has sponsored several safety-awareness activities, including the recent Take Back the River Run and a Model Mugging seminar. The organization also secured funding from the Undergraduate Council to make the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) System, a self-defense course, free to undergraduate women.

The course, which is administered by the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD), had previously cost participants $20.

Pauker says that it is important that H.A.S.T.E., as well as the administration and the police, provide safety information to students.

According to Pauker, students respond better to safety advice when it comes from their peers.

"If a police officer says 'Lock your door and don't go out alone at night,' it sounds like your mom," she says. "The message should also come from students."

Pauker says that H.A.S.T.E. is working with the police to develop a mini-RAD program, one which students can take in three hours.

Fifty-five incidents of violent crime were reported to the HUPD last year. The HUPD's list of crimes includes six robberies, 44 aggravated assaults and five sex offenses.

Theft in the Square

Non-violent crime in Cambridge decreased dramatically in 1994, and again in 1995, exceeding the nationwide downward trend in crime.

In Harvard Square, the most common crime was larceny. Thieves and shoplifters target shops and businesses in the Square, while pickpockets prey on shoppers and tourists.

The Square is especially famous for one type of theft: bicycle thievery.

"It's outrageous," says Nagle.

Two hundred and ninetynine bicycle thefts were reported to the HUPD in 1994, down from 316 in 1993. Figures were unavailable for 1995.

Police recommend that students register their bikes with the HUPD. Most recovered bikes are not returned, police say, because their original owners can not be found.

In addition to bike theft, Harvard students are also affected by burglary from dorms and houses.

Last week, a man entered the room of Natashya L. Trejo '97 in Eliot House and stole her stereo and her roommate's jewelry box.

And in a crime spree that lasted four months, thieves committed 32 break-ins in Matthews Hall this past winter.

The fourth-floor room of Jessica Hammer '99 was one of the first in Matthews to be burglarized. A thief stole three wallets while Hammer and her two roommates slept.

Since that break-in, Hammer says security has been a major concern for her and her roommates.

"I'm terrified of some stranger just walking into our room," she says.

Hammer now locks her door whenever she leaves her room. "My roommate lost her key, and we won't leave the door unlocked for her," she says.

Harvard's Facilities Maintenance Office installed punch-type locks on the doors of the bathrooms in Matthews Hall to prevent trespassers from hiding and to protect students in the bathrooms.

The last theft in Matthews occurred in the early hours of March 1, when a camera was stolen from Michelle Chen '99's second floor room.

"I didn't expect something like that to happen in a place like this," said Chen. "You're inside the gates here. You're sheltered, protected."

That morning Lamelle D. Rawlins '99, another Matthews resident, called the police to say that a stranger had entered her third floor room.

When the stranger saw that Rawlins and her roommates were awake, he showed them a Harvard ID and told them he was a student before leaving the building.

Police arrested 19-year old Hermand Curry of Roxbury outside Matthews Hall. Chen's camera was found in Curry's possession, and he was charged with breaking and entering and receiving stolen property.

Last week, Curry, a former Cambridge resident, pled guilty to both charges. He had no prior record and received a suspended sentence and two years probation.

"We really had the goods on him," said Assistant District Attorney Kevin J. Curtin, who prosecuted the case. Curtin praised the HUPD for their rapid response.

Cambridge: A Safe Place?

Despite being the victims of crime, Tierney and Chen still believe Cambridge is a relatively safe city.

"I'm more conscious of whether I'm with a large group of people, but it hasn't kept me from going out," Tierney says.

But Tierney, Hammer and Chen agree that being victims of crime has taken some sense of security out of the ivory tower. Massachusetts' 10 Most Violent Cities Most Violent Crime Reported 1994-95 Chris R. Goldsmith Crimson Fall River  568 Cambridge  796 New Bedford  1,147 Lawrence  1,172 Brockton  1,227 Lynn  1,412 Lowell  1,528 Worcester  1,775 Springfield  2,307 Boston  9,569 Source: Associated Press

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