Armed robberies near Tulane and Loyola prompt changes in security efforts

This story was published in The Times-Picayune on December 8, 2011. 


John McCusker, The Times-Picayune

After a recent spike in armed robberies near Tulane University, campus police are doubling the amount of off-campus patrols in the surrounding neighborhoods and changing the way students request a shuttle bus.

Students were victims in four of the area’s seven robberies since Thanksgiving.

So far this semester, at least 23 people have been robbed while walking in the area, 14 of whom were students. Eleven of those students were held up at gunpoint.

New Orleans police have arrested suspects in two of the armed robberies that occurred in September, said Sgt. Warren Keller of the New Orleans Police Department’s Second District. There have been no arrests in the remaining 21 cases, Keller said.

Students walking to and from restaurants and bars are frequently targeted because they are carrying money, credit cards and cell phones, added Sgt. Chris Billiot.

Others are falling victim in the neighborhood as well, Billiot said, including a couple who was robbed at knifepoint returning home from the bank last week and a man was robbed at gunpoint while taking out his trash.

To prevent more robberies, the Second District is working with Tulane police, Loyola police, and private patrols to beef up security.

Tulane police have doubled their off-campus bike and cruiser patrols from three to six units. Officers at Tulane and Loyola have also encouraged students to take Safe Ride, a nighttime shuttle bus that picks up and drops off students anywhere within a one-mile radius of campus. More than 2,000 students from both universities use Safe Ride each week.

But twice so far this semester, students have been robbed while waiting for the shuttle, prompting Tulane police to tweak the program.


On Oct. 4, three Tulane students were robbed at gunpoint while waiting for Safe Ride at the intersection of Oak and Adams streets. So Tulane police added a second shuttle to the weekday rotation, reducing students’ average wait times from 20 minutes to 12 minutes, said Tulane police’s Col. Jack Leblanc.

On Dec. 1, a Loyola student and her friend were robbed at gunpoint while waiting for Safe Ride at the corner of Broadway and Spruce Street.

This time, Tulane police didn’t have the money to increase the number of shuttles in the rotation, so they instated a call-back system. Now, dispatchers instruct students to wait in a safe location until they are called back with a one-minute warning that the bus is about to arrive, Leblanc said.

“We don’t want to put our students in a position that could be considered unsafe at any time,” Leblanc said.

Shuttle drivers are also supposed to pull over when they see students walking on side streets to offer them a ride. Drivers also alert campus police to areas where students are walking that may be under-patrolled, Leblanc said.

Tulane police are considering an investment for the spring semester in a GPS-powered smart phone app that would allow students to request a shuttle, see a real-time bus map and receive automatic alerts when the shuttle is on its way. At 25 cents a rider, implementing the app would be “definitely a bigger expense, considering our ridership,” Leblanc said.

Since it began in the spring of 2007, Safe Ride has grown rapidly each year, from transporting just 250 riders that first semester to nearly 25,000 riders this fall.

The app is in use at seven other universities, including the University of Alabama and Georgia Tech, schools where students are often the target of off-campus robberies.

The last time police agencies in the university area coordinated efforts was in early September, which resulted in one armed robbery arrest, Billiott said.

Because suspects’ descriptions or modus operandi match in some of the recent armed robberies, Billiott said he’s hopeful more arrests are forthcoming.

“We’ve done this in the past, whenever (crime) kinda picks up,” Billiott said. “It’s quite an operation we’ve got going on. It usually yields something.”

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