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Violent Crime In The University District Rattles Some Residents

Amy Juravich, WOSU
This poster in the University District alerts residents to recent crimes in the neighbood.

Vandalism around neighborhoods where Ohio State and other college students live is nothing new. But recently, the number of home invasions and ‘at gun-point’ crimes just north of the OSU campus have reach a level that has some residents concerned. 

With its tree-line streets and older homes, Old North Columbus in the University District has a lot going for it. University Area Commissioner Tom Wildman has lived in the area for 35 years.

“It’s close to Ohio State University, walking distance for any population that’s allowed to live off campus. Young professionals like moving here because it’s inexpensive to live here compared to like going to Clintonville or Worthington or going across the freeway to the new apartments in Grandview. Most things are walkable, easily accessible. Anything you could ever possibly want is within a ten minute walk,” Wildman said.

But on April 27th during the middle of the day the quiet hum of the neighborhood was shattered by gunfire. Ohio State issued an alert notifying students and staff of a home invasion shooting on Northwood Avenue.

Twenty-year old OSU student Hannah Smith had just come home to her apartment across the street.

“I just pulled up to get to the house and there were four ambulances, a fire truck and over ten cop cars. And the whole block is blocked off by cops and there’s caution tape around the apartment,” Smith said.

Smith and other witnesses saw EMT’s bring two bloodied young men out of the building. Police said they had been shot.

Evan Salyers is another OSU student who lives on the street. He said the neighborhood was relatively safe up until recently.

“In the last month or so it seems there has been an uptick in crime. Even just the apartment right next door to us had a window broken a couple weeks ago from an attempted break-in, but they were ran off. And then there was an armed robbery just down the street a couple months ago where I think the guy got stabbed. So, it’s getting scary,” Saylers said.

Seth Golding is a member of the University District Commission. He has lived in Old North Columbus for 22 years. Golding agrees that violent crime is on the rise.

“Hopefully, this will get wrapped up soon because it’s just eleven of these in three months, that’s one a week, which, you know, we’d be lucky to have one a year and it would usually be tied into some reason it happened that was pretty obvious,” Golding explained.

While there are different theories about what’s behind the recent crime spree, Golding said during a recent community forum on crime, police pointed to drug activity in the area. He said that’s the reason some break-in’s went unreported.

“You wouldn’t report if you had your drugs stolen,” Golding said.

Tom Wildman also sits on the University Area Commission. He agrees with Golding to a certain extent pointing to heavy marijuana use in the University district. But after living in the area for so many years, Wildman thinks the problem goes deeper than that.

“I have other theories just because I’ve been around the northern part of the University District for so many years. I know what we used to grapple with. And we used to grapple with gangs who used to toss and tussle with who owned the territory,”  Wildman explained.

Wildman said in the 1990’s, neighborhood leaders reached out to national law enforcement to address the problem.

“We went all the way up to the federal level. And the federal people came in and busted out several smaller gangs that were in our neighborhood which then led to the taking down of the Short North Posse,” Wildman said.

Columbus Police Commander Mark Lang oversees police patrols in the University District. While he doesn’t totally discount Wildman’s theory of gangs in the area, he said, so far, the criminal activity in the neighborhood is different than typical gang activity in other parts of the city. And Lang encourages robbery victims to call the police, even if it’s to report stolen drugs.

“I can’t promise that there are no penalties for that, but I think that we could all agree that there’s a large difference in having a bag of marijuana versus a shooting and we are far more interested in finding somebody who’s shooting people, who’s robbing people," Lang said.

Lang said police continue to investigate the recent shooting on Northwood Avenue and other crimes in the area.