Ideally a time for rest and relaxation, this year’s spring break showed an ugly side as the week saw a string of reported burglaries from students’ dorms, giving much of the community cause for concern for their privacy and security.
There were five burglaries reported on campus, with the total value of the lost items estimated to be more than $5,000. Objects reported stolen were generally small, light and easy to carry away, ranging from jewelry to laptops and cell phones. The incidents reported during the break week itself occurred over a short time, starting with a theft from Dort Residence Hall on March 23 sometime between 3:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., followed by a theft from Dort during the early evening hours of March 24 and one from Pei Residence Hall West sometime between March 24 and 25. A number of burglaries were reported immediately following the break as well, specifically involving a theft from a locked common area in W Residence Hall, reported on March 26, and a theft from Dort, reported on March 29, both of which are thought to have taken place during the break week. The names of the students involved and the specific rooms burglarized were withheld for the sake of privacy.
According to New College Campus Police Chief Wesley “Wes” Walker, no suspects or leads have been confirmed as of press time.
In light of the recent controversy surrounding the trespassing of New College alumni, the Catalyst asked Walker if the possibility of the crimes being committed by non-students could affect the Campus Police Department’s trespassing policy. He stated that such incidents are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and depend entirely on circumstances, and assured that the police will continue to maintain their standard policy.
“We would like to think it’s off-campus, but we don’t know for sure,” Walker said of the perpetrators, pointing out the commonly-held sentiment amongst the New College population that the on-campus community, being particularly small and tight-knit, may feel deceptively safe and intimate. In most of the reported cases, the doors were unlocked or propped open. While students may appreciate the friendliness and convenience of such practices, Walker urges the New College community to prioritize caution and keep room doors, as well as doors to common room areas, closed and locked.
Throughout 2010, the police received eight reports of on-campus burglaries. When contrasted with the seven reported within the first three months of 2011 — five within a week of one another — students may feel concerned that New College is in the midst of a crime wave, especially in light of a Catalyst article in February detailing a string of bike thefts in January (though according to police records, reports of bike-related incidents have been scarce in the months since). The recent series of burglaries might be attributed to the relative lack of student presence on campus during the break, making it easier for crime to be perpetrated without being observed. Walker referred to the incidents as probable “crimes of opportunity” given the state of the campus and the apparent lack of forced entry in any of the reported cases.
The campus police do have surveillance footage from the days of the reported incidents, captured by cameras near the parking lots, but according to Walker the footage could not be determined to contain evidential material at this time. He told the Catalyst that he would like to see additional and/or better-quality cameras installed near the dorms and in possible points of illegal entry to the campus, but that this issue would have to be discussed and acted upon by the administration in conjunction with the student community.
In the meantime, concerned students are encouraged to keep their rooms and property as secure as possible and to report any suspicious individuals or activity to the campus police. “Take responsibility for your property,” Walker advised. “Take measures to protect them.”
In the event of an emergency or crime, students should first and foremost call 911, and can always use one of the blue emergency phones distributed throughout the campus or call the campus police at (941) 487-4210 for assistance. Chief Wesley “Wes” Walker also has several key points of advice to help students stay safe:
- Lock your room doors, as well as doors to common rooms. Also refrain from propping open exterior doors. This is a structural as well as a safety concern.
- Report any suspicious individuals or activity to the campus police. The campus is fairly small and easy to get on and off, so always be aware of your surroundings.
Cooperate with the campus police. When the police do catch a suspect, they greatly appreciate involved students’ cooperation with the prosecution, helping to prevent repeated incidents.