By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The University of Southern California announced a series of security improvements on Friday in response to the brutal murder of a Chinese graduate student who was beaten to death with a baseball bat last month near his off-campus apartment.
The measures mark the second major security upgrade since the 2012 murder of two graduate students from China sent shockwaves through the prestigious private school and ignited a debate over whether USC and the Los Angeles Police Department had provided adequate security in the neighborhoods surrounding the urban campus.
University officials said the latest moves, which include increased deployments of so-called neighborhood ambassadors, expanded car escorts and upgraded video monitoring, further improved what they termed one of the most sophisticated safety programs in higher education.
"USC evaluates and upgrades its security measures and safety procedures on an ongoing basis, and we are glad that we have been successful working with LAPD in reducing crime overall,” Todd Dickey, senior vice president for administration, said in a statement.
"However, the tragic death of Xinran Ji shows that random criminal acts can take place in spite of our best efforts, and it further strengthens our resolve to find additional ways that we can help prevent such senseless tragedies," Dickey said.
Ji's body was discovered at his apartment on July 24, a few blocks away from where police said the 24-year-old electrical engineering student had been attacked some six hours earlier.
Four people, two of them juveniles, were arrested the following week on capital murder charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Police say Ji was walking to his home near the campus around 12:45 a.m. when he was attacked and beaten with a baseball bat in an attempted robbery. Ji eventually arrived home, where he died of his wounds in the early morning hours.
Security was tightened at and around USC after two graduate engineering students from China were shot to death in 2012 as they sat in a parked car near the campus in what police said was a robbery attempt gone wrong.
Two men were arrested and charged with the double slaying, a crime that stunned the campus community. One suspect pleaded guilty to two counts of murder earlier this year and was sentenced to life in prison. His co-defendant is still awaiting trial.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Eric Beech)