East Lansing, students work to create safer downtown

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The intersection of M.A.C. Ave. and Albert Street in downtown East Lansing, close to where the Sept. 11 shooting occurred.

In the early hours of Sunday, Sept. 11, police were dispatched after receiving reports of gunshots in the 300 block of M.A.C. Avenue. Thirty-one bullet casings were found on the ground in the area, and one victim was transported to a nearby hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The city has previously experienced couch burnings and damaged vehicles during college football home games, but gun violence marks an escalation. 

“We are definitely seeing a lot more guns for sure, which is definitely very concerning to everybody,” Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said. Reshaping these weekends into something more than two days of binge drinking is an ongoing discussion with city employees, she said. “Especially in our town, we see that the primary form of entertainment is heavy intoxication, which definitely leads to a strain on public services and community relations.”

To mitigate this situation, the city is working with the University Student Commission, a city commission of MSU students meant to foster communication between the city and the student body. The commission’s first meeting of the semester was on Oct. 11. Student and community safety was one of the commission’s most prominent topics for discussion.

“The best first step at this point is to start with coming up with solutions,” MSU student Shaurya Pandya said. “I think that we have a really diverse commission this time. “It looks like we’re fully staffed, which means that there are going to be ideas on the plate.” 

Pandya was elected commission chair at the meeting.

MSU Community Student Liaison  Sue Webster said one measure students can take to increase the health and safety of the MSU community is updating their addresses in the university database. This would give the university a general picture of where off-campus students are living, which would help people understand where and how crimes are occurring.

“We have complex cases of students who are doing really egregious things to other students, and we don’t know where they live, but we know that they’re here attending eight o’clock classes, four days a week,” she said. 

Data on where off-campus students live could show the university how many students have close, easy access to medical care based on where they live.

Gregg said many downtown visitors  on game-day weekends aren’t students – they’re from out of town. 

East Lansing Police Sgt.  Adam Park said the department has rented and placed bright lights around downtown, including one pointed at the area where the Sept. 11 shooting occurred. Student and commission member Joshua Ramirez-Roberts said there are specific areas near apartment complexes that should be better lit.

“Right in front of my apartment … there’s a bus stop and no lights from the apartments to the bus stop,” he said. 

Webster said students who have issues with lighting around their apartment complexes should take  these questions to their landlords, as these complexes are private property. However, if students have reached out to their landlord and are not receiving satisfactory responses, they are advised to contact the city’s Housing and University Relations office

Annette Irwin is the administrator for this office. She said students can call the office or fill out an online complaint.

“Our housing inspectors then follow up, go out, see if there really is a code violation,” she said. “If there is, then we send to the property management in writing what the code violation is and give them a date for a reinspection … to confirm that they were able to repair and/or replace the item.” 

Gregg said there has been  a stream of misinformation asserting that the city has defunded its police department. This isn’t true, she said, but the department is down nine officers and is looking to fill those positions.

Pandya said it could help to employ “cultural authority” to create a safer atmosphere downtown. He suggested using public figures in the MSU and East Lansing community to encourage students and visitors to preserve the game-day spirit by avoiding unsafe practices.

“A cultural authority is someone that people listen to,” He said. “We’re talking people like Mel Tucker, people that are well known in the community … that’s how you really shift cultural tone.”

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