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Akst: Stakes higher for NIU communiversity

Published: Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

“Not the best thing to read when paying to send your child there.”

“NIU is safe, as long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, not walking around wasted at random hours of the night, you should be fine.”

“Place is a joke...I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.”

These quotes come from Northern Illinois University’s Facebook page after an armed robbery of two people early Sunday in the 1100 block of Varsity Boulevard.

That incident closely followed an unrelated incident in which a 25-year-old man allegedly shot at people with whom he was arguing early Saturday morning in the 800 block of Edgebrook Drive. Nobody was injured, but bullets damaged three cars. The suspect has been arrested and charged with a variety of gun and drug charges.

That’s two gun crimes in two days close to Northern Illinois University, where the perception of safety looms as perhaps the biggest problem facing the communiversity.

Outstanding.

Evidently, troublemakers weren’t reading a few weeks ago when I wrote that we (NIU + community) desperately need a few years without ANY violence, scandal or anything that makes us look bad.

Good teachers set high expectations because students tend to meet them, so when I wrote this, I realized it would be a challenge, but not an unreachable one.

So the debacle continues. Some argue the city needs to crack down on landlords renting to people they haven’t thoroughly checked or of whom they are fearful. Some say the trouble is people moving here from Chicago and the western suburbs. Some blame the media for sensationalizing routine events in college towns (no, we haven’t; the Daily Chronicle and the Northern Star have shown caution and restraint).

Often, I feel bad as a columnist in that I mostly illuminate problems without fixing them. But now, I’m relieved to just hold the flashlight because I don’t know what we’ll do. But I do know the consequences are devastating.

So, a few observations:

• Federal law requires data on campus crime to be published by Oct. 1 each year (for the preceding calendar year). Watch NIU’s website. The data can be tricky because of how crime and campus borders are categorized.

• In August, I reported findings from Pew Research Center studies on perceptions of college. One finding I didn’t report is that 58 percent of college presidents say public high school students arrive at college less prepared than their counterparts of a decade ago. I think that ill-preparedness transcends academics. Maybe young adults need more or better adulthood preparedness training.

• The problem can’t be guns, so don’t worry about that.

• Could part of the $3 a unit registration fee the city wants to charge landlords be used to help conduct more thorough background checks? Could the city, NIU and landlords do better about prevention?

• Despite being ahead of schedule and under budget, I don’t think DeKalb’s new police station is in a good place. While being at (basically) the intersection of Annie Glidden Road and Lincoln Highway would help with special event traffic snarls and response time, the new station is not in the worst neighborhood (where it should be). Also, a police station on “Main Street” screams “We’re safe!” too loudly. Finally, it’s only a few blocks from NIU’s police station. It seems like we should spread out.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at jasondakst@gmail.com.

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