El Camino and other community colleges see rise in crime

After a decline during the pandemic, El Camino College now joins the ranks of community colleges in California facing a rise in crime on campus.

As of May 1, a total of 59 crimes had been reported on or near campus, according to the El Camino Police Department's crime log.

In 2020, following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community colleges transitioned their classes entirely to online instruction, limiting foot traffic on campus.

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

As populations grow on campus and in surrounding communities, there has been an increase of over 100% in all crimes since 2020, according to each community college's Clery Act filing.

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

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

Campus police are working to prevent these numbers from increasing, but this is difficult for community colleges that are geographically closer to downtown Los Angeles, such as El Camino.

El Camino Police Chief Michael Trevis said he attributes the increase in crime at the college primarily to the growing number of transient migrants.

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

Many of the 75,518 travelers in the greater Los Angeles area and neighboring cities end up on campus.

“The crime problems we have are crimes at night. I am sorry to say that it is [unhoused] “People here don’t go to school, they’re disgusting…

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

“Some come here to see what crimes they can commit, be it trespassing, vandalism or something else,” Trevis said.

The proximity of Alondra Park contributes significantly to the number of travelers traversing El Camino.

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

Most recently, 40-year-old homeless man Jeffery Davis was charged with the murder of 65-year-old Junko Hanafusa.

Davis, identified through surveillance camera footage, is accused of attacking Hanafusa with a sledgehammer on campus near El Camino High School on December 24, 2023.

Davis was arrested the same day in Alondra Park and Hanafusa succumbed to her injuries the next day.

Similar to El Camino, Compton College is located near the greater Los Angeles area, which causes Compton to have a large transient population.

Crime at Compton College has also increased significantly. The 2016 annual safety report states that a total of 23 crimes were committed on campus. In 2022, this number rose to 40.

Don Mueller, police chief at Cerritos College, emphasized that the location of the campus plays a large role in the number of crimes committed there.

In Cerritos, which is farther from downtown Los Angeles, the crime rate is much lower than in El Camino and Compton.

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

While Cerritos is seeing less through traffic, Mueller said “the economic situation and the pandemic have led to an increase in homelessness,” which is leading to more crime on campus.

In addition to the transient population, numerous outsiders enter the campus grounds for financial reasons.

“The money comes from some form of crime. Often people from outside try to come onto campus to take advantage,” Mueller said.

Of all crimes, motor vehicle-related crimes are most commonly associated with financial compensation.

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

Similar to Cerritos, the college saw a 158% increase in crime on campus, with 24% of that being auto 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 very valuable car parts to sell on the black market,” Esqueda said.

Due to the high density of cars, El Camino's Parking Lot C is one of the highest crime locations on campus, according to the daily crime log.

Trevis said the location at Lemoli Avenue and Manhattan Beach Boulevard makes it easier for outsiders to come in and “look like students.”

Both Trevis and Esqueda urge students to double lock their doors and be vigilant in parking lots.

Nineteen-year-old El Camino student Leila Ramos is often suspicious on her way to the parking lot and says she feels like someone is going to jump on her.

Since she often stays on campus until after 9 p.m. and only arrives on the pitch-black fourth floor of Parking Lot C, she feels that her safety is at risk.

“Sometimes I feel safe walking to my car because I'm pretty alert, but I feel like the police presence could be stronger,” Ramos said.

Leila Ramos, 19, is a sophomore architecture student at El Camino. She usually parks in Lot C, one of the lots where crime occurs the most, according to the El Camino Police Department's crime log.
Leila Ramos, 19, a sophomore architecture student at El Camino, often parks in Lot C, one of the lots where crimes are most frequently committed, according to the El Camino Police Department's crime log. (Emily Barrera | The Union)

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

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

All community colleges in California have blue campus kiosks that can be used to directly call campus police, who are available 24 hours a day. Shuttle attendants can also be called using the blue kiosks.

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

Students are also encouraged to sign up for NIXLE, a system that will notify you of any emergency via SMS.

Trevis and Mueller urge students to remain vigilant while on campus.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” Trevis said. “Look around and ask yourself: How can I protect myself?”