Parents worried for UCF students' safety
A text alert is sent out and social media lights up. It's the typical cycle for when crime happens in the area — and for those who send their children off to college, there's one online hot spot with their name on it: the UCF Parents Facebook group.
The collection of parents is a large one, just shy of 2,000 members, and it's constantly buzzing with questions. Lately, a good portion of these posts have been revolving around the crime in the area.
Some posters have expressed worry about sending their children to the university for their first semester, while others have posted about their concerns with moving their children off campus, especially with the recent rumors of gang-related activity.
"Every time I hear a news story, I check in on her to make sure she's OK," said Christine Greene, a mother of a UCF student. "At this time, she's comfortable living on campus, and that keeps me feeling a little bit more comfortable."
Greene hopes for a program in which UCF, police, students and parents can come together to curb crime in the area.
"Most people have the perception that the majority of the housing around UCF is student housing or off-campus student housing. The reality is that it's not," said Captain Stephen Garrison from the Orange County Sheriff's Office. "I think that sometimes that's part of the issue is the perception that this is all UCF students."
Garrison added that crime has actually gone down in the surrounding UCF area when compared to last year, a fact that's supported by the department's Sector 2 Overview Report.
Courtney Gilmartin, UCF PD public information officer, claims that violent crime in their area of coverage, which includes the campus, NorthView, The Pointe at Central and Knights Circle, has gone down.
One particular off-campus housing location that has gotten a bad reputation on the group as of late has been The Marquee, formerly known as Sterling. There have been many posts in which parents warn others away from the apartments, or share how their own child will soon be moving out.
"Many of the comments I see are parents stating that we aren't making any changes and nothing has improved," said Rachel Theriot, The Marquee's regional supervisor. "The fact is that we have and continue to make changes in our security programs at the community. Some of the security initiatives, like the new camera system, require tight planning and time before final installation."
Although Garrison expresses that he takes all crime seriously, he believes that a lot of the recent violence discussions have been fueled by hype, a sentiment that some members on the Facebook group have shared.
"You can't shelter your kids forever," said Stacy Tepper, whose daughter plans to move off campus in the fall.
"They have to learn on their own. It makes somebody a little more independent. I mean, regardless of where you live — on campus or off campus — you still have to practice safety measures," she said. " ... It just depends on how smart you are and how alert you are to your surroundings."
While the organization that Greene hopes for isn't in existence at the moment, Garrison and Gilmartin advise parents to talk to their children about taking part in their own safety. They recommend locking doors, registering electronics and avoiding late-night walks alone.
Kimberly Slichter is a Contributing Writer at the Central Florida Future.