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More than a year after a Temple police officer was shot and killed, where does the university’s safety stand?

Crime is down, and many improvements are in place.

Jennifer Griffin, vice president for public safety at Temple University, walks through the campus.
Jennifer Griffin, vice president for public safety at Temple University, walks through the campus.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Jennifer Griffin stood at the intersection in North Philadelphia where Christopher Fitzgerald Way was named after the Temple University police officer killed there on duty more than 13 months ago.

“You never move on, but you move forward, and you continue to honor his legacy and continue to serve the community,” said Griffin, a former Delaware State Police captain in her second year as Temple’s vice president for public safety.

» READ MORE: Temple students who want to be police officers can ‘ride along’ with university police

The stop was one of several Griffin made this month as she drove around Temple’s police patrol zone, accompanied by an Inquirer reporter and photographer. She discussed improvements made since joining the department and the remaining challenges.

As crime climbed in the city during the pandemic, Temple’s campus was on edge, exacerbated by the shooting death of student Samuel Collington outside his off-campus residence in November 2021. That prompted the university to commission a campus safety audit. Concerns were reignited when Fitzgerald was shot to death February 2023.

» READ MORE: Temple should lead a collective effort to make North Philly safer, says long-awaited report

But Temple seems to be turning a corner. Aggravated assaults, robbery and auto theft in and around campus were down significantly in 2023 from 2022.

That’s noticeable to the Temple community.

“I’m not hearing the same frequency of concerns that we had a year ago for sure,” said Jeffrey Doshna, president of Temple Association of University Professors, the faculty union.

Ken Giunta, a Temple Family Council member whose daughter is a senior, also saw improvement.

“I’m a lot more confident than I was,” said Giunta, a retired international policy researcher from Maryland. “Temple can’t solve the problem of urban crime ... . But I think as a university it is doing ... everything it could and should be doing to keep students safe.”

Griffin said Temple is implementing nearly 70 safety recommendations that came from an audit released last April by 21CP Solutions, the company started by former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. A university safety dashboard that went online in September lists each recommendation and its progress.

Temple has added shuttle stops, extended walking escort service to 24 hours a day, updated over 400 security cameras, added equipment including handguns, long guns and radios, expanded bike and foot patrols, and changed officers’ shifts to 12-hour stints to ensure coverage and allow for alternating three-day weekends.

» READ MORE: Temple defends its police staffing struggles after the shooting death of one of its officers

But officer recruitment remains challenging for Temple, reflecting city and national trends, with the number of sworn officers at 81, down from 101 last year. That includes administrators, commanders, supervisors, and detectives, not just officers who patrol.

“We are hurting,” said Sean Quinn, president of the officers union, calling the staffing situation “critical.”

The university is offering signing bonuses and pay increases, hiring officers from other departments, exploring recruiting from a shorter-term police academy than Philadelphia’s 38-week program, and offering students interested in becoming officers a chance to ride along with Temple’s cops.

“We’ve made over two dozen changes” in recruitment and retention, Griffin said, “but we are competing against everybody else.”

On patrol with Griffin

On patrol, Griffin stopped by a residence hall to check on a student who needed an identification card.

She visited Playa Bowls, an on-campus restaurant.

“Spring break’s over; we just extended our hours,” said Adam Matari, owner. “We’re open to midnight on Thursday and Friday.”

Outside the library, she ran into Temple rowing team members.

“This is part of the rowing family,” said Griffin, whose daughter, a freshman, is on the team.

During one hour, the department received a radio call for a harassment complaint, which is consistent with its average of 1 to 1.5 calls an hour, Griffin said. There was also one car stop.

» READ MORE: Temple says violent crime in its patrol zone is down, while it announces next safety steps

In 2023, there were 44 aggravated assaults reported in the patrol zone, down 17% from 2022; 51 robberies, down 20%; and 66 thefts from cars, down 13%, according to department data. On and adjacent to campus, the decline in aggravated assaults and auto thefts was larger.

That mirrors a drop in crime citywide in robberies and thefts from autos and also homicides. Those three crime categories, as well as aggravated assaults, also fell in the 22nd police district, which encompasses Temple.

In 2023, there were three homicides, including Fitzgerald’s, in the Temple patrol zone, the same number as 2022. The zone runs north from Jefferson to Susquehanna Streets and from 18th to Ninth Streets, with an additional chunk covering athletic fields.

More than half of Temple police calls are off campus and don’t involve students or staff, Griffin said.

“Our big issue on campus right now is bike thefts and scooter thefts,” said Griffin, who recently presented a safety update to Temple’s board of trustees. To combat it, the department this year gave away $50 locks to students who registered their bikes and scooters.

Hiring and retention remain a problem

Last year, the department lost five supervisors and officers to retirement, and seven in the last five months to the city police department. Others have left the profession, Griffin said.

Still, she said, officers respond quickly and the university pays city police for an additional 288 hours a week in supplemental patrols in the university patrol zone. Temple also uses 390 security officers, she said.

Temple has increased salaries, with starting pay of $70,969, and added signing bonuses of $2,000 for new officers and $2,500 for those joining from other departments.

The university has five officers in the academy and two from other departments who will start in April, Griffin said.

Brian Hart, an alumnus and critic of the department, last month publicly praised Griffin’s and the department’s response to a February incident near campus involving a large group of juveniles and shots fired.

“You’re going to hear me probably for the first time in a while give a lot of credit, [to] the administration in particular [for] ... how they communicated and a big change in tone,” he said on the Dawn Stensland show.

But in an interview, he said he’s still concerned about the number of officers and questioned whether Temple was deliberately not hiring to save money, given a budget crunch.

He referred to an email sent this month by Ken Kaiser, Temple’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, noting a nearly 10,000-student drop in enrollment since 2017, equivalent to a $200 million revenue loss. Kaiser wrote that he had directed every central university support unit to cut their budgets by 5% for next year.

But Kaiser said in an interview that the directive does not include public safety, which has money to hire officers when they are available.

“We’ve done budget cuts almost every year since the Great Recession and the campus safety budget has never been cut,” he said.

Quinn, the police union president, said Griffin is doing “due diligence” to get more officers and he wants to work with her.

“We need to figure this out,” he said.

He has asked officers to document their five biggest problems causing low morale.

Giunta said the department has become more transparent under Griffin. It has made clearer the university patrol zone map and maintains a list of off-campus landlords that have met Temple safety requirements, he said.

“We definitely referred to that when our daughter moved off campus,” he said.

To students, things also seem better, said Rohan Khadka, student government president.

“Students want to know exactly what’s happening on their campus, and they want as much transparency as possible,” said Khadka, a junior education major from Mechanicsburg. “Dr. Griffin has been willing to come into any space to hear what students are saying.”

Graphics editor John Duchneskie and graphic artist Steve Madden contributed to this article.