Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Security measures enforced: Prentiss thefts latest in string of crimes

Residence Life and campus security are taking steps to combat further crime as Saturday’s thefts in Prentiss Hall became the latest in a line of incidents to strike campus in the past two weeks.   According to Associate Dean of Students Nancy Tavelli, all student residences will now remain locked at all times.   This new system will most likely stay in effect until January, at which point the security situation will be reassessed.

“I think locking the doors is not a bad idea, especially with Thanksgiving coming up,” said Tavelli.   “But it doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to come into these halls, or that the incident in Prentiss couldn’t have happened.”

Late Saturday morning, a man whom witnesses described as six feet, four inches and African American entered Prentiss Hall and stole several items from open rooms, including one laptop that was later recovered by security.   On at least two different occasions, he encountered residents who were inside their rooms when he entered.   While the intruder claimed to be another resident’s guest, several students became suspicious and called security.

“The only part that scared me is that I had a full conversation with him, and I was suspicious a little bit, but I also let him stay in there and I had no idea even though he was 30 years old and I’d never seen him before,” said sophomore Maddie Adams.   We’re just so trusting here.   That shook me up a little bit.”

After sweeping the building for the intruder, security identified him leaving with two stolen backpacks. He was also carrying a recycling bin, which he dropped as security pursued him.   Although the suspect got away, a resident’s laptop was discovered at the bottom of the recycling bin.

“I was upset when I first heard my computer was stolen but my main reaction was that I was glad that no one was hurt,” said sophomore Laura Lindeman, whose laptop was temporarily taken from her room but restored to her soon after.   “I felt security was really fast about getting my computer back and I hope that they are taking measures now to make the campus safe again, not just for our belongings but more for the students in general.”

In addition to the interest house community (IHC), which has been officially locked down since last week’s theft at the Writing House, Prentiss and Anderson began locking all outside doors during the day on Saturday evening.   Residence Life made the decision on Tuesday to lock down all student residences, so that only residents are able to enter the buildings.

“Jewett and Lyman are a little more complicated because of dining halls,” Tavelli said.   “So we had to meet with Bon Appétit to ask them to help out security in the halls by asking them to lock and unlock doors to the halls so students can enter the dining halls.

Students wishing to visit friends in other residence halls during the day can call ahead to be let in, just as they would at night before the lockdown, Tavelli explained.

However, just because exterior doors will be locked does not mean students should neglect to lock their room doors.

“It does not mean that somebody couldn’t prop the doors or just walk in behind someone, which is what happens in the library and other places, or just be a… person they think might be a Whitman student that walks in the door with them,” said Tavelli.   “We don’t want people to have a false sense of security.”

Of the thefts that have happened so far, Tavelli pointed out, not one has been from a locked room or house.

“It’s got to be a partnership between what residence life does, what the college does and what the students do,” said Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland.   “We’ve always been an open campus, and students have a real sense of being safe here.   It’s a rural area, but the fact is crime takes place here, too.   So we’ve got to get that message out.”

According to Adams, the recent crime wave has made an impact on her behavior.

“I walk with my friends to the gym now and everybody locks their doors,” she said, adding that she is happy that the residence halls are also being locked.

“We’ve also asked the staff on duty in each of the halls to make frequent patrols and check for doors being propped open,” said Cleveland.   “They do that anyway, but we asked them to take greater care.”
Director of Security Terry Thompson acknowledged the severity of the situation.

“It’s like the perfect storm,” he said.   “Suddenly all the crooks in town showed up on campus to steal.”

In light of recent criminal activities, Thompson has been in frequent contact with the Walla Walla Police Department. Police have also been patrolling the campus over the past few days.

“It’s a small community and people feel safe here,” said Thompson.   “But the reality is there’s a lot of criminals in Walla Walla.”

Thompson, Cleveland, and Tavelli all expressed hope that the request for an additional security guard on campus, originally filed last year with the intention of enabling two officers to be on duty more of the time, will be met during this budget cycle.

Thompson said that student security employees are now taking on more tasks in the office or are out locking building doors so that the guards can spend more time patrolling campus.

Despite these adjustments, security still relies primarily on students to alert them of potential threats.

“We would certainly welcome more calls from students saying ‘something odd is going on, could you check it out?’   I’d rather have that then get a call later saying ‘someone was in the building and stole my laptop,'” said Thompson.

“Generally crime is the heaviest at the beginning of the year, when the new students are arriving.   There’s a lot of confusion of campus, nobody know exactly who anybody is.   They [intruders] can come onto campus and wonder around fairly freely,” said  Thompson.

For the students who have already lost possessions, Thompson said the police are investigating.   Although police do not yet know who stole the items from Prentiss on Saturday, the young man arrested on Ankeny in connection with thefts in Lyman is still being detained.

“They anticipate some more arrests and hopefully the recovery of some more property,” Thompson said.
On Saturday, police served a search warrant on the house of a person of interest in the Writing House theft.   One item that may have belonged to the victim was recovered and sent to a lab for fingerprinting.  

Other electronics found in the suspect’s home led police to suspect that he may be trafficking stolen goods or trading them for drugs, Thompson said.   No arrest has yet been made.

Tavelli characterized the thefts in Prentiss as more brazen than the kinds of crimes residence life and security are used to addressing, but noted that instances of elevated crime have occurred before, and tend to come in waves.

“I can remember several years ago someone knocking on doors selling perfume, and stealing things if there was no one there.   So it’s not a totally new problem this year, it just seems that there’s been more in a concentrated period of time.”

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