Not an ‘easy’ street


UK students enjoy their night on the front porch of a house on University Street Friday night. University Street runs perpendicular to Elizabeth Street. Photo by Scott Hannigan

By Andrew Pillow

For many students on UK’s campus, Elizabeth Street has a reputation that precedes any real notion of the neighborhood a few blocks away. Frequent parties, abduction, assaults and gunshots are all things residents of Elizabeth Street are all too familiar with.

The area in and around Elizabeth Street has developed a history among students and neighbors as a problem area, but there is a growing perception not much is being done to solve the neighborhood’s problems.

Some students say they do not feel safe walking around in the area.

“Oh, I don’t walk around at night,” said Maggie Tincher, a second year physical therapy student.

Tincher, who is relatively new to this area of off-campus student housing, said she hasn’t had any problems yet, but is well aware of the history.

“We’ve only lived here for like a year, so I never had anything happen but you always hear people talk about State Street (which crosses Elizabeth Street),” Tincher said. “We keep the doors locked.”

The problems plaguing the Elizabeth Street area are seemingly numerous. Alcohol and party violations, female students being picked up by strangers and later sexually assaulted, and more incidents dot the headlines seemingly every semester. For some, the crime is so bad they fear for loved ones being the next target.

“I feel fairly safe but I understand girls not feeling safe,” said Marc Ruberg, a business enterprise junior. “I’ve driven my girlfriend to class when she had night classes cause she doesn’t feel safe.”

Ruberg, who has lived in the area for about two and a half years, said he has seen it all, in terms of crime in the area.

“People have been abducted right near Elizabeth two years in a row now,” Ruberg said. “Someone got shot across from my house, a drug deal gone bad or something. I heard the shots and the police showed up like 15 minutes later.”

Not everyone shares the thought that the neighborhood is too dangerous. 3rd District Councilwoman Diane Lawless, who’s district includes the Elizabeth Street area, said students are generally safe but also suggested students can be safer in their planning and habits.

“I think in most cases (students) are (safe),” Lawless said. “There have been situations where somebody will show up at a gathering and unlock a window so they can return and break in. These are some precautions (students) can take to make sure they are safe.”

Students said there is no shortage of police presence in and around Elizabeth Street, but some question whether their main priority is safety or party control.

“The police are around but it seems like they’re more around to bust up parties than to make sure everyone is safe. Just making sure everyone is quiet basically,” Ruberg said.

UK Police Chief Joe Monroe said it is natural for students to feel like police in the area are only concerned about parties, because they are indeed a point of emphasis. Monroe said UK Police has a joint task force with Lexington Police to help curb drinking and related incidents.

“We are changing that whole culture and maybe that’s why students feel like they’re being picked on,” Monroe said.

Monroe said he can understand people wanting to get together to have fun, but the police have an obligation to make sure things do not get out of hand.

“We are not trying to discourage people from having fun,” Monroe said. “We are trying to make them be responsible.”

Because of the increased party patrols, student alcohol related deaths and citations have decreased over the last five years, Monroe said.

In regards, to the two abductions, Monroe said investigations into both are ongoing, but such instances could be prevented with the proper precautions.  Monroe said the investigations into the abductions are in progress, and are definitely not being ignored but points out future abductions could be helped with ongoing initiative.

While students complain about safety and unfair targeting by police, the permanent residents in the area believe a few bad students are causing the problems the neighborhood faces and are making their peers feel unsafe.

“It is unfortunate that the irresponsible behavior of a very small percentage of students give others a black eye,” Lawless said. “Peer pressures for those students they see being disrespectful to the neighborhood to clean up their act would also help a lot.”

The safety issue in neighborhoods near campus is not a problem unique to UK. Unfortunately, neither is the tension between students and residents. Monroe said police can fix the safety issue, but the second problem some say is up to the residents. Solving both may be the solution to solving Elizabeth Street’s ills.

“The neighbors would love to get to know the students better and have a good relationship with them.” Lawless said. “It is nice if they can go to the neighbors and introduce themselves and swap phone numbers and let them know that they want to be a part of the neighborhood and if either have problems, the students or the other residents, they call each other.”