Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Fall yields high crime rate on campus

The commencement of the fall 2007 semester has already been marked by a rash of crimes that brought the issue of security to the forefront of the public consciousness.

Director of Security Terry Thompson explained the kinds of situations that necessitate a police presence on campus.
“Our job is to investigate issues of misconduct, file reports and send them to Clare Carson, the judicial coordinator,” Thompson said. “We will also confiscate illegal substances if we find a student in possession of them. Usually we handle alcohol possession and minor amounts of marijuana possession. Anything more heavy: cocaine, heroin, LSD: we turn over to the police.”

Walla Walla Police Sgt. Dennis McKee said, “If the campus security officers get notified of an incident first, then we would let them deal with it and decide whether or not to bring law enforcement in. If we get called to it, we would treat it just like any other crime report.”

“A lot of the times the deciding factor in whether or not we bring in the police is the student’s attitude,” Thompson said. “If a student starts acting up and getting in the faces of my men, we’re not going to put up with it, and we will call the police.”

The police department is aware of the recent crime wave on campus, and has established a dedicated special teams unit of four detectives who specialize in targeted crimes to handle the case. McKee explained some of the tactics that may be employed to reel in the perpetrators: “One common practice is to set up bait for the thieves, put out a nice bike and lock it up somewhere and see if it draws somebody in.”

Thompson and McKee agree that the beginning of the year is usually when spikes in campus crime occur.

“Usually things heat up when there’s been a change in the normal routine, such as when a new semester begins,” Thompson said. “You have several hundred new faces showing up on campus, all busy unpacking boxes in their dorms or participating in activities and things like that, and it’s really easy for a stranger from town to just come on to campus and shop.”

“Such crimes tend to be isolated [to the Whitman campus],” McKee said. “I haven’t noticed it spreading to the community college, because unlike Whitman they haven’t got a congregated living area. A few years ago a lot of the community college students lived in apartments on Wilbur St., and we noticed [a spike] then, but now they’re kind of scattered throughout the community. And there’s also the perception that Whitman students tend to be more upper scale and have more nice things.”

Although the majority of misconduct cases on campus are either drug, alcohol or theft related, occasionally a more serious threat manifests that requires campus security and the local police to work together to ensure the safety of Whitman students. In Thompson’s office is a bulletin board filled with photographs of dangerous criminals who are banned from setting foot on campus, faces that the police have been made aware of. Pointing one of them out, Thompson said, “That one, he’s a really dangerous guy who was harassing a girl living at Marcus House last year. That guy was bad news. That guy had guns.”

“Luckily nothing serious happened,” Thompson said.

If something had happened, Thompson would’ve been ready to deal with it. A retired police officer who had been on the force for 22 years, Thompson is trained in the use of firearms, and in exceptionally high threat situations like the above, where a student’s life was at stake, he wouldn’t shirk from bringing his gun to work if that’s what it would take to ensure a student’s well-being.

McKee said that Whitman students as a whole are generally in the police department’s good books. “[Students at Whitman] are pretty law-abiding. I’ve been here 19 years now, I’ve seen a lot of students come and go, and for the size of the student body, we feel pretty fortunate for how well they police themselves, especially given some of the stories we hear about things going on at other college campuses.”

Thompson and McKee both said that the relationship between Whitman campus security and the Walla Walla police department is a solid one. “[Thompson] was actually my sergeant when he was here,” McKee said. “Someone from campus security comes down to the station almost daily, and most of us are on a first name basis.”

The biggest Whitman-induced headache for the police department? “Beer Mile,” McKee said with a laugh. “It stands out because it’s one of those things where you can’t decide whether to take action and get involved, or do you just say to yourself, ‘they’ll be done in a minute and they’ll go back inside, so don’t worry about it.'”

Thompson’s number one safety tip for Whitman students: “Lock your things. Lock your dorm. Students here are very helpful and trusting … but sometimes that’s what makes them vulnerable.”

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