Campus safety conference convenes blocks away from USC murder site

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Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck called on campus police departments Friday to engage the community and teach students to take responsibility for their safety.

His remarks came during the keynote address of the Campus Safety Conference, sponsored by Campus Safety Magazine, at the Radisson Hotel near USC--mere blocks from where USC graduate student Xiran Ji was murdered last week.

Police say Ji was walking home from a study group at about 12:45 a.m. on July 24 when a group of four teenagers tried to rob him and hit him in the head with a baseball bat. Ji managed to make it back to his apartment, but did not survive the night. Four people have been charged with his murder. 

Beck's remarks avoided direct reference to Ji's death. 

"We police in the best of times and the worst of times," Beck told the assembled crowd of campus safety personnel, mostly from around California. The incredibly low crime rate right now makes it a good time to be an officer, her said. On the other hand, security threats have gotten more complex, particularly with the spate of recent active shooters on campuses.

Beck also mentioned "the tremendous disparity we face between the very poor and the very rich that drive some crime that affects our campuses," as a contemporary challenge.

Campuses, he said, are particularly complex.

"You have a population to police that is young, transient, preoccupied, not familiar with their surroundings," Beck said." The absolute hardest and most difficult circumstances that I can imagine. And it's only through conversations with them that have to start today, before they even take the seats in their class, about the realities of their own safety and what they can do to make themselves safer."

Captain Ed Palmer of USC's Safety Department attended Beck's speech.

Afterwards, he said USC does include safety information in its orientation for new students, including graduate students. At the moment, students arriving from abroad are given the same lessons as other students, but USC may start providing such trainings in students' native languages as well. 

"That's something that's being considered in the near future," Palmer said. 

The department currently deploys about 60 officers at any one time during the school year--something they're "looking to do" over the summer months as well, Palmer said. As for Ji's murder--and the murder of two other graduate students from China in 2012--Palmer said his department is looking to see what went wrong and how to improve. 

"Those are isolated incidents, unfortunately things happen despite our best efforts," Palmer said.

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