The Harbour accounted for quarter of all incidents at OCC during opening months

A student walks near the entrance of The Harbour, OCC’s on-campus residences, on the morning of September 12.

 

Over a quarter of all Orange Coast College Campus Safety incidents occurred at The Harbour during the last few months of 2020 following its late September opening, according to crime logs.   

Incidents from this time include a resident being held at knifepoint by three attackers, theft from vehicles, verbal altercations and drunk and disorderly residents. 

The Harbour is an 800-person residential dorm located on OCC’s campus.

While the crime rate spiked in the months following its opening, the numbers dropped in subsequent years. From October 2020 through August 2022, The Harbour has accounted for 15% of all crime log entries. 

Campus Safety Director Jim Rudy hypothesized that the sharp rise in crime that occurred when The Harbour opened was an unintended side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There's probably various factors contributing to that,” Rudy said. “We were in the midst of the COVID lockdown and people weren’t free to go about or didn't feel comfortable going about. Maybe being confined in that area may have contributed to that, but that's really just speculation.”

Campus Safety Officer Chip Melton agreed that COVID-19 was a contributing factor to the high crime rate. 

“I would say that the tensions were higher than normal,” Melton said. “Just human tensions are [higher]. And I think that's across the board – OCC or no OCC.” 

Dean of Students Derek Vergara also believes that the pandemic was responsible for many of the problems at The Harbour. 

“People [were] dealing with the pandemic very differently. I think that's what we were seeing,” Vergara said. “I think the first year was a difficult year when The Harbour opened because we didn’t know how to manage the pandemic and having people come on campus. They had really nothing to do, but do what they wanted to do.”

While The Harbour was the site of an increase in crime, that trend did not play out across the state. According to a brief by the California Policy Lab, property crime actually decreased during the pandemic and violent crime only rose by 0.8%. 

Jay Pearlman, the vice president of Advisory Services for the Scion Group which owns and operates The Harbour, said that it’s not unusual for dorms to account for a large percentage of incidents on a college campus. 

“It is common for student housing to have what may appear to be a disproportionate number of crime reports,” Pearlman said via email.  “The reason is that potential crime, and public safety responses, generally occur where there are people; residential facilities are often the only spaces on campus with a 24-hour concentration of activity.”

He went on to say that as the only operational facility on campus at the time, it was natural that most of the incidents occurred at The Harbour. 

“During the entire 2020-21 school year including in Fall 2020, the OCC campus was effectively shut down and operated remotely, other than The Harbour,” Pearlman said via email. “The percentage of public safety responses in general would come from The Harbour and nearby, as the only facility meaningfully operating on campus at that time.”

Despite Pearlman’s assurances that the rise in the number of incidents at The Harbour were to be expected, those living there felt differently. 

A former residential advisor for The Harbour who asked to remain anonymous described the first few months as “crazy.” She believed students being away from home for the first time was the cause of the majority of the incidents she encountered. 

“It was COVID, there's a lot of young people in there, everyone's, ‘Oh, I'm not with my parents.’ It was a lot of parties, a lot of people being in big groups,” she said. “And that was kind of at the height where one of the things was a limit on how many people we wanted in each room so COVID wasn't being spread around the dorms.”

A sociology major who wished to speak anonymously said that the crime rate at The Harbour has led to her feeling unsafe. 

“I walk home at night as a 20-year-old girl with a key stuck between my fingers ready to prepare for whatever comes at me,” she said. “I see a person at the door of The Harbour probably just waiting there innocently, and I still wait on the side farthest that I could because I know no one's around to protect me. I'm by myself at night or even during the day.”

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