Victims 101

College students make easy targets for rash of robberies in Pine Hills

It was a busy week for both partygoers and police following a number of robberies in the heavily student-populated Pine Hills neighborhood.

The five robberies, all of which involved victims in their early 20s and four of which took place after midnight, have some students concerned, but many say they aren’t going to cut back on their weekend plans.

“It’s not exactly comforting,” said Jessie Szary, a college student living on Ontario Street who was out celebrating Saturday. “But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to go out and have fun.”

The Albany Police Department arrested one suspect, Justin Adams, in relation to two muggings that took place at 4 AM on Morris Street. Adams reportedly told police that he was specifically going after students who were obviously intoxicated.

“It’s also warmer weather now, people are out,” said James Miller of the APD. “Particularly college students are going to be out in a much larger number.”

Miller also addressed the number of muggings where the victim had been drinking, saying that “somebody that’s visibly intoxicated, that puts them obviously in a much more vulnerable state.”

Miller said that police are looking into potential connections between the robberies, and responding by making adjustments in the way they police the neighborhood.

“Whenever you specifically see a pattern in a specific area, like Pine Hills where there’s been more than a couple of incidents, you’ll see an increase in police presence there,” Miller said.

The same pattern took place in the spring of 2008 after the mugging of two UAlbany students in the early hours of April 29 outside of Alumni Quad.

“It’s really nothing new,” said Stephen Stella, director of security at the College of Saint Rose, which is located in Pine Hills. “If you’re alone, you’re very vulnerable. If you’re in a physical condition where you’re not responsive to your environment, you’re at high risk.”

Saint Rose has responded to the recent robberies by sending out safety-alert e-mails to students, as well as increasing the security presence around campus. On Tuesday night they added extra neighborhood patrols to accommodate those who were out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

“We are also starting up the Albany Police Neighborhood Patrol, where the college contracts with the APD to provide extra patrols in the neighborhood,” Stella said. “It’s been a very effective tool for us.” The additional patrols from the APD are on foot until midnight, after which they patrol in vehicles.

Saint Rose, like many other colleges, also offers a security escort service, but some underage drinkers living on campus are hesitant to use the service out of fear of punishment from the college.

“There’s no hard and fast rule; it would depend on the situation. It is a policy violation at the college,” Stella said, regarding how the college handles such incidences. He advises students to use public transportation or a taxi, and to have a game plan.

Security officials from Saint Rose, the University Police at UAlbany and the APD all appear to work together closely when tackling the issue of safety in the Pine Hills neighborhood.

“We work with universities and colleges about stressing to students—particularly if they’re going to be out partying—not to consume too much alcohol, particularly late at night or to the point that they drop their inhibitions or put themselves in the position where they can become a victim,” Miller said.

Others feel that college students should take responsibility for keeping themselves out of dangerous situations. In response to an Albany Student Press blog post on the Times Union’s Web site about a robbery, one person commented saying that “crime isn’t the problem here, stupidity is. . . . How about not walking the streets with a big red target on your back or carrying a sign saying ‘Hey, I’m drunk and mom sent me 200 bucks yesterday, it’s in my pocket!’—at some point, these college kids (who are actually adults) will have to start taking some responsibility for their actions.”

According to Miller, the city of Albany has no public intoxication laws.

“There’s not any particular laws that way. Obviously if someone consumes too much alcohol and gets unruly they can be arrested for disorderly conduct, but not public intoxication,” Miller said, meaning that the police can make an arrest only if a person gets drunk enough to a be perpetrator, not a victim.

Christine Bouchard, vice president of UAlbany’s Division of Student Success, sent an e-mail to students over the weekend encouraging them to drink safely.

“Some of you will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this weekend,” the e-mail read. “This is a typical time for students to let their guards down regarding personal safety—either with too much drinking or travelling alone.”

The e-mail contained the same general safety tips offered by other colleges and police, such as walking in groups and being aware of your surroundings. However, these common-sense tips can easily be forgotten after a night at one of the 13 bars in a four-block radius of Alumni Quad.

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