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Students express safety concerns in Tampa, on campus

TIME Magazine recently listed Tampa as one of the world’s greatest places in 2023, yet students had mixed reactions to Tampa’s overall safety levels. ORACLE PHOTO

A March 16 TIME magazine article listed Tampa as one of the world’s greatest places in 2023.

Despite the recognition, students expressed concerns for their safety on and off-campus.

Tampa was the only Florida city that was included in the magazine’s top 50 list and has become notable for its blossoming downtown scene and multi-billion dollar landmark development, according to the article. The criteria covered livability, sustainability, art and food scenes, as well as demographic wealth. 

Simultaneously, USF students have complained about the severe lack of safety in Tampa despite the rise in its attractiveness as a tourist-friendly city. Daniel Majerczyk, a sophomore econometrics major, said students’ pressing concerns include the recent influx of crime alerts around campus, news of local shootings and the consistent sound of circulating police sirens.

Areas just outside campus have garnered an extremely negative reputation, with students describing it as ‘sketchy’ or ‘concerning,’ according to Majerczyk. He said the shift in safety levels on and around campus is disturbing. 

Although Majerczyk, who is a Tampa native, praised the presence of University Police patrolling the area 24/7, he said there are still lingering concerns about robberies and violence, especially once the sun sets.

“I feel completely safe on campus, but as soon as I set one foot off campus my safety rating drops drastically. I’ve seen and heard gunshots around the Fowler and Busch Gardens area,” he said.

The area within a three mile radius from the Tampa campus has the second highest crime rate in the entire Tampa Bay area, according to Upgraded Home. The article added that areas like Sulphur Springs and North Tampa have witnessed exacerbated crime rates, with the latter neighbourhood experiencing rates that are 150% higher than the Tampa average. 

Mirna Chakhachiro, a junior forensic studies and justice major, said her biggest concern is that anyone can come in and hangout at the university. She said she strongly believes that it would be beneficial if security would perform frequent student ID checks in order to prevent suspicious visitors. 

“It’s understandable that it’s an open space, but some people can even pretend to be students just to have that connection with actual students,” Chakhachiro said. “With that being said, the phrase ‘stranger danger’ is always applicable, especially since anyone has the capability to pretend to be someone they’re not.”

After describing an incident where a friend was stalked and harassed by a 26-year-old claiming to be a student, Chakhachiro said she finds it alarming that not enough is being done to prevent or resolve cases like these.

“[It’s strange] that the USFPD arrests four students for peacefully protesting but dangerous strangers are just roaming around,” Chakhachiro said.

For freshman economics major Zainab Fatima, concerns about gender-based harassment are worrying, especially as a woman.

“As a female, I suppose every woman experiences some amount of fear or anxiety against any unwanted sexual contact or sexual harassment. I think it’s a natural concern that is always in the back of any female’s mind,” Fatima said.

In 2021, 16 sexual offenses including rape and fondling were reported on the Tampa campus, according to USFPD’s 2022-23 Annual Security Report. 

With rising safety concerns on and around campus, Majerczyk said he recommends being cautious by staying together as a group if walking around the Tampa Bay Area. He said he dodged an otherwise dangerous encounter with suspicious individuals that he strongly felt would have robbed him had he not been with a group. 

The Tampa Police Department released a violent crimes per capita survey on Feb. 23 outlining cumulative rates of violent crime between 2021 and 2022 among 16 major cities. Despite having the lowest ranking for violent crime, the report stated that both homicide and robbery rates in Tampa have gradually increased from 43 to 48 and 318 to 353, respectively. 

A way Chakhachiro said she stays safe is by ensuring she really knows the people she gets into contact with before taking further steps. 

Carrying tools like pepper spray is something Fatima said she advises in case of danger.

Other safety resources provided by USF include BlueLight Poles, which are emergency call stations scattered throughout campus, as well as Safe Team, the after-dark campus escort service. The University Police Department also offers educational programs on personal safety, theft prevention and stalking, among other topics.  

The USF SAFE app also provides users with emergency contact shortcuts, an option to share location, crime prevention tips, current weather reports, annual crime statistics and a flashlight function.

Majercyzk said that Tampa should still be praised as a city that is emerging as a popular metropolitan hub while slowly but steadily placing effort on decreasing crime rates.

“I agree that Tampa is one of the nicest cities to live in the United States. We have the sunshine and beaches that most states lack,” Majerczyk said. “Every city has their bad areas and high crime rates just like Tampa.”