Crime & Justice

Shooting of two USC students raises questions about security patrolled neighborhoods

The USC Department of Public Safety contracts with a private company to offer
The USC Department of Public Safety contracts with a private company to offer "security ambassadors" who patrol street corners in certain nearby neighborhoods. Students call them yellow-jackets.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC
The USC Department of Public Safety contracts with a private company to offer
A portable security kiosk with an assigned USC Department of Public Safety officer now sits on the corner of 27th Street and Raymond Ave. just yards from where two Chinese graduate students were shot to death in a park car.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC
The USC Department of Public Safety contracts with a private company to offer
Officers with the USC Department of Public Safety patrol certain neighborhoods that surround the main university campus.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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A University of Southern California public safety officer now stands guard inside of a portable security kiosk on the corner of 27th Street and Raymond Avenue, yards from where two international graduate students were shot to death Wednesday. Police cars cruise up and down the neighborhood streets. These are new sights for a quiet street where the sounds of a lawn mower and a barking dog are a reminder that the neighborhood is still made up of working class families that have lived here for several decades.

"We haven't heard anything crazy lately," said neighbor Beatrice Moreno. She said about seven years ago, Raymond Avenue was a gang affiliated street but it's been cleaned up for a few years now.

Two electronic engineering graduate students from China, Ying Wu and Ming Qu, were shot while they sat inside a parked car around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Friends say the two had just returned from studying late at the campus library. The male victim managed to crawl to Wu's house porch to call for help but collapsed before emergency assistance arrived. The woman was found slumped over in the car dead.

Aside from the recent double homicide, Capt. David Carlisle with the USC Department of Public Safety said the West Adams area rarely sees violent crime. But he said a high-profile crime like this one gives people a lost sense of security. USC posted Thursday a FAQ's page on its website about security on and off campus.

"So the question is how many students are moving into that neighborhood," he said. "And does the university want to invest the money in expanding into a larger area?"

USC public safety officers patrol about a 2.5 square-mile radius around the main campus 24 hours every day. About three years ago, yellow-jacketed "security ambassadors" were added to the security team and assigned to patrol the street corners of the north and west parts of nearby neighborhoods off-campus. Carlisle said if USC expands patrol it would need to negotiate that with Los Angeles police and existing neighborhood councils. He said USC has an informal agreement with the community that it would not expand university-owned housing by buying property west of Vermont Ave.

"There are people who live in those neighborhoods who feel that their rents go up or that they are evicted by property owners can rent single rooms to students who will pay more than some single-families would," Carlisle said.

USC senior Alex Robinson lives three blocks from the crime scene. She said she'd rather not see more USC patrol because as the university security expands, she said gentrification follows.

“I’m sorry that it happened," she said. "I wish that this area could be safe not just for USC students but for the actual residents and families that live here.”

USC has plans to redevelop University Village shopping center north of the campus that should have room for 5,000 students but Carlisle said that project is years from being complete. For now, students like Yng Li, an economics major, continue to the push into other neighborhoods. Li lives on southwest of the campus on Browning Boulevard.

"Yesterday I checked my address on the crime map and I was shocked," Li said. Her lease is almost up and she's now shopping for a room to rent in the north off-campus area.

There are number of apartment buildings in the North University Park area that USC owns. Upper-class students who want university housing are placed there. The foot traffic in this area is different from the farther out neighborhoods. Students on bikes brisk by, crowds of young people carry loud conversations as they walk past yellow-jacket security ambassadors manned on almost every street corner.

The boundary line can roughly be described as a sort of square from Grand Avenue to the east, Adams Boulevard to the north, Vermont Avenue, to the west, and Exposition Boulevard to the south. USC DPS responds to a slighter larger area outside of this described boundary. Students say during orientation university officials generally advise them to live within the boundary of where public safety officers patrol, but students say rent can be expensive in the patrolled areas.

"They told us that there are kind of areas not really safe," said public policy graduate student Jiayin Kuang.

The university is offering a $125,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the suspect that is responsible for killing the two Chinese students.

For now or at least until police catch the suspect, Carlisle said USC DPS will continue to have a presence on Raymond Avenue and the surrounding blocks.