El Camino College and other community colleges are seeing an increase in crime

After a decline during the pandemic, El Camino College joins California community colleges experiencing an increase in on-campus crimes.

According to the El Camino Police Department crime log, a total of 59 crimes were reported on campus or in its immediate vicinity as of May 1.

In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, community colleges went fully online in 2020, limiting the amount of foot traffic on campuses.

The population decline led to a decrease in crimes: El Camino’s annual safety report for 2020 reported a total of 15 crimes, while the 2018 report listed 57 crimes.

As populations on campuses and the communities surrounding them grow, there has been a more than 100% increase in all crimes reported by each community college’s Clery Act since 2020.

Several crimes have been linked to students, while stalking and vehicle theft are among the most common crimes committed by non-students.

The Clery Act, passed in 1990, requires all colleges and universities to report campus crimes and data, which are then released in an annual security report on October 1 of each year.

Campus police forces have tried to prevent these numbers from increasing; However, community colleges, including El Camino, which are geographically closer to downtown Los Angeles, have found it difficult.

El Camino Police Chief Michael Trevis said he attributes the increase in crimes at the university mainly to the increasing transient population.

In 2023, the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count reported a 9% increase in transients in Los Angeles County.

With a population of 75,518 transients in the Los Angeles area and neighboring cities, many of them end up on campus property.

“The crime problems we are dealing with are nighttime crimes. “I’m sorry to say that these are (unhoused) people, people who don’t come to school here,” Trevis said.

Trevis also added that not all transients on campus commit crimes, but the few that are known to carry knives and drugs, which are strictly prohibited on campus.

“There are some who come and see what crimes they can commit, whether it’s trespassing, vandalism or something else,” Trevis said.

A major contributor to the number of transients passing through El Camino is its proximity to Alondra Park.

Less than five minutes from campus, many transients who normally stay in the park enter the campus to seek shelter from the cold, while others may get into trouble.

Recently, 40-year-old transient Jeffery Davis was charged with murder for the death of 65-year-old Junko Hanafusa.

Davis, who was identified through security camera footage, is accused of attacking Hanafusa with a sledgehammer on Dec. 24, 2023, on campus near El Camino Gymnasium.

Davis was arrested the same day at Alondra Park and Hanafusa died from her injuries the next day.

Like El Camino, Compton College is close to Los Angeles, giving Compton a large transient population.

Crimes at Compton College have also increased significantly, with a total of 23 crimes taking place on campus, according to the 2016 annual safety report. In 2022, that number will have increased to 40.

Cerritos College Police Chief Don Mueller emphasized that the location of the campus plays a major role in the number of crimes that occur.

Cerritos, which is farther from downtown Los Angeles, experiences a much smaller number of crimes than El Camino and Compton.

In 2022, the 2023 Clery Act report for Cerritos reported only five crimes, while El Camino reported 36 crimes for the same year.

While Cerritos is experiencing less transient traffic, Mueller said “the economic status and the pandemic have increased homelessness,” leading to more criminal activity on campus.

In addition to the transient population, a variety of outsiders enter campuses for monetary purposes.

“Money comes from some form of crime. People from outside often try to come in and take advantage of the campus,” said Mueller.

Of all crimes, vehicle-related crimes are most linked to financial compensation.

In 2017, Cerritos College reported two vehicle thefts and by 2022 that number had increased to six.

Similar to Cerritos, the college saw a 158% increase in campus crimes, of which 24% were vehicle thefts, according to Cypress College’s annual safety report.

Because there are a large number of cars in the campus parking lots, people who El Camino Police Sergeant Francisco Esqueda calls “opportunists” go into the parking lots to see what they can find.

“Many tend to steal car parts, which are very valuable, so they can sell them on the black market,” Esqueda said.

El Camino’s Lot C parking lot is one of the most active crime spots on campus due to the large number of cars, according to the daily crime log.

Adjacent to Lemoli Avenue and Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Trevis said it provides easier access for outsiders to wander in and “show up as students.”

Both Trevis and Esqueda warn students to make sure they lock their doors and be vigilant in parking lots.

Nineteen-year-old El Camino student Leila Ramos often feels hesitant as she walks to the parking lot, saying she feels like someone is going to jump at her.

She often stays on campus past 9 p.m. and arrives on the pitch-black fourth floor of Lot C, making her feel like her safety is in jeopardy.

“Sometimes I feel safe walking to my car because I’m pretty vigilant, but I do feel like there could be more police presence,” Ramos said.

Leila Ramos, 19, is a second-year student at El Camino studying architecture.  She usually parks in the Lot C parking lot, one of the most common parking lots where crime occurs according to the El Camino Police Crime Log.
Leila Ramos, 19, is a second-year student at El Camino studying architecture. She usually parks in the Lot C parking lot, one of the most common parking lots where crime occurs, according to the El Camino Police Department’s crime log. (Emily Barrera | The Union)

Ramos has also heard of several hit-and-run incidents that remain unsolved in campus parking lots.

Students experiencing similar feelings should know that there are resources available across campus to keep students safe.

Campus blue poles are available at all community colleges in California that call directly campus police, who are available 24/7. Shuttle attendants can also be called via the blue posts.

“We have shuttles that take students to class. If you don’t feel safe walking alone, a cadet will pick you up and get you to your car safely, especially for our night students,” Trevis said.

Students are also encouraged to sign up for NIXLE, a system that notifies you of any emergency via text message.

Trevis and Mueller urge students to be vigilant at all times while on campus.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” Trevis said. “Look around you and ask yourself: how can I be safe?”