It’s been eight years now that Sgt. Jay McTaggart has been rolling his blue and white cruiser through Cal State Northridge. As a member of the university’s campus police force, he’s witnessed the aftermath of the sorts of scattered crimes common to college campuses: rape, burglary, drug and alcohol offenses, vandalism and the rest.
Things were still in the secure calm of summer vacation’s final weeks as McTaggart parked his patrol car in University Park, the center of the campus’s new and still-growing collection of student dormitory buildings. The lot was virtually empty, and McTaggart smiled comfortably in his snug, tan police uniform. But neither he nor his comrades could have been very happy this last school year, which saw a dizzying increase in crime on campus, focused most specifically on the new housing developments.
It was all part of the same package that has challenged several other key campus services as CSUN is transformed from traditionally a commuter school to one that has a large, active 24-hour population. When the third and final phase of the $54-million housing project is completed next year, 10% of the students will be living on campus, directly affecting such services as the library, University Student Union, food vendors and the health center.
“The campus atmosphere has changed,” said Fred Strache, director of the student union, which is undergoing a $12.3-million expansion this year. “You do get more people concerned with 24-hour operations--everything from security to library hours. As you become a residential campus, you’ve got a constituency here that is looking for longer hours. This is home, for all intents and purposes.”
The metamorphosis of CSUN is something the school’s administration has anticipated eagerly for most of the 1980s, said Edmund Peckham, vice president of student affairs. He predicted a new era in the university’s personality, where large numbers of students are involved in student government, campus-based entertainment from the music and drama departments, and greater attendance at school sporting events, which have just been upgraded to Division I. But the demands of the new residents will test the limits of campus services.
Peckham’s office will conduct a survey of students this fall to determine what services are working, and what is needed. Its findings may be of limited use, he cautioned, if present budget constraints leave little room for expanding nighttime and weekend hours without cutting back on the existing schedule.
“This is going to be a difficult budget year in the state,” Peckham said. “It’s not a time where we can talk about extending student services easily.”
For the campus police, the budget has limited the number of officers at its disposal to deal with crime problems among thousands of tenants at the dormitories straddling the corner of Zelzah and Lindley avenues. And last semester offered dramatic illustration of the potential problems.
“What has concerned us the most up here is we’ve had several large-scale disturbances involving hundreds of people,” McTaggart said, over the chatter of his police radios. “And most of the people that have been involved with these have not been residents. They have been gang members or troublemakers from as far away as Long Beach that have somehow found out this area is a party area, an area where you can make trouble and get away with it.”
Between December, 1988, and November, 1989, crime and related incidents at CSUN in general went up more than 40% from the previous year, while crime in the school’s student housing areas jumped more than 80%, said Lt. Michael Sugar of the campus police. Both Sugar and McTaggart defined the crime increase as an unavoidable side effect of any sudden growth in the resident population.
Prior to the mid1988 opening of the first of three new dormitory projects, fewer than 700 of CSUN’s 30,000 students lived on campus. The second phase of housing construction increased the total to about 2,000 in August, 1989. When phase three is completed by the end of 1991, about 3,000 students will be living in campus housing, more than at any other Cal State campus, according to figures from the chancellor’s office.
Some services have already been expanded. The counseling office, for example, sends a representative to the dorms weekly to talk with students. And the University Student Union--a complex of entertainment and food facilities, meeting rooms, offices and shops--has expanded some of its weekend and nighttime hours, while construction begins on expansion of the present facility and a new satellite facility adjacent to the dormitories.
The school’s Student Health Center last year presented its annual health fair on the University Park’s basketball courts, and plans are to continue it both there and on the central campus. The health center, which provides free outpatient care to all enrolled students, has yet to expand its hours. But educational programs on birth control, AIDS, substance abuse and other health concerns are planned for the dorm population.
“Those are the kinds of programs that we have some obligation of reaching to the student housing population,” said Nancy Shanfeld, coordinator of the center’s health education. “Residential students are more dependent on campus resources by virtue of that fact that they are here 24 hours.”
For its part, the campus police department is adding three officers, bringing its total strength to 23. And a new police “substation,” which will open by Saturday in time for student move-in day at University Park, will be a base for foot patrols and a convenient location for questioning. The additional police, assigned specifically to the dorm areas, will be funded from the housing budget, Lt. Sugar said, to help deal with the demands of the growing resident population.
Sugar said the department initially hoped for more officers, but, “We’re not holding our breath.”
In March, CSUN police were caught in what threatened to explode into a riot when officers arrested three outsiders who crashed a party and were ultimately accused of burglary, resisting arrest and threatening a state official, McTaggart said. The burglary charge was later drooped. But most troubling to police was the crowd that gathered in the central University Park parking lot, where some in the group accused the arresting officers of racism. A few attempted to free those being arrested, Sugar said.
Another incident last year involved several visiting football players who allegedly became involved in fistfights with students in several locations in the housing area, prompting campus police to move quickly from one area to another.
In December, an 18-year-old resident student and a non-student, also 18, were arrested after a search of a dorm bedroom turned up seven rifles and four handguns.
“I don’t mean it to sound like there is a major crime wave under way,” Sugar said. “We have one of the lowest campus crime rates of the large universities in Southern California, and we want to keep it that way.”
Cal State Northridge experienced 576 crimes in 1989 classified by the FBI as “part one offenses,” which include mostly serious felonies, from rape and assault to auto theft. By comparison, UCLA police reported 1,230 part-one crimes for the same period. USC reported 1,360.
Among local Cal State campuses, only Cal State Los Angeles listed a slightly lower part-one crime rate than CSUN, although the Northridge campus led Southland Cal State schools in incidents of violent crime.
For most resident students, crime is a distant concern. Lee Anne Zinbel, 20, who is hearing-impaired, left her home in Las Vegas a year ago, attracted in part to the school’s programs for the deaf. She pedals her bicycle to class, and lives in a second-story dorm room, which is decorated with optimistic slogans, family photographs and posters of the pop group New Kids on the Block.
Elsewhere in her building, a few windows display rows of empty beer and wine bottles, standing like trophies from some memorable, if forgotten, nights. Zinbel said she is rarely disturbed by the weekend parties that invariably develop during the semester.
“In the fall, it’s noisy,” she said. “I can feel it.”
But Zinbel added that she was visiting her boyfriend in another dorm building late last semester when a loud noise from an upstairs apartment sounded like a fight. “It was especially scary for me because I can’t tell what it is,” she said. “It was crash! bang! But it only happened one time.”
The sudden death of CSUN football player Tom Gray of heart failure last December near a dorm swimming pool created another challenge for university personnel. Cindy Derrico, coordinator of residential life at the school, said the death needed to be dealt with on several levels, including counseling for students, the family and onlookers.
“So there are lots of new situations we have to manage, and difficult ones,” Derrico said. “But they are not unexpected in such a large place, certainly not things that other campuses have not faced. Maybe we might feel at one time or another that we’re facing more than we want to face, but I don’t think we face anything extremely unusual.”
There have been relatively few problems involving nearby homeowners. Sgt. McTaggart said some neighbors have complained of excessive noise from University Park balconies. But Derrico said she has heard little negative feedback from the community, other than some concern about littering.
“There has been some,” said Derrico, who has herself lived in CSUN student housing with her husband during her four years at the school. “I think when you live for many years across from an empty field, and then one morning there’s 700 college students living across the street from you, it’s a very different place. It’s a different experience for you from that day forward.”
The student housing developments are part of a university-wide expansion that includes new structures or additions for the library, science building, business school and parking facilities. By the fall of 1991, the University Student Union, which director Fred Strache calls the “living room of the campus,” will have a satellite facility offering a meal program, computer lab, games room and courtyard designed specifically for student residents. It is tentatively scheduled to be open from 6:30 a.m. to about midnight, seven days a week. The main student union is slated for its own expansion beginning in November with a 500-seat theater, an expanded cafeteria, new student government offices and added storage area.
They are services likely to be utilized by Gladys Lazaro, 22, who has lived on campus for three years. Now a part-time office assistant for the housing office, the health science student, who used to commute from Culver City, is now more active at the university outside her classes.
“You don’t feel as much a part of the school as you do when you live on campus,” said Lazaro. “It was like a routine before: You got up and went to school, came back and that was it. You felt no connection.”
In spite of CSUN’s 23-member police force--less than half of UCLA’s, whose enrollment is only slightly higher--the CSUN campus police said the completion of the housing development’s final phase is expected to have less of an effect than the earlier additions. Several rules designed to avoid many of the problems of last year continue in effect: All parties in the dorms have to get prior approval, the size of dorm gatherings is limited to 25, “quiet hours” have been instituted between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and all student residents now must have photo ID cards.
“We’re using this year to renew our energy and to analyze all the things we’ve been doing,” McTaggart said. “So I don’t anticipate nearly the additional activity with phase three. I think we’ve learned a lot in the last couple of years.”