December 8, 2016

WGPD: car break-ins not a trend

Campus safety reports listed three car break-ins in the past five weeks on Webster University car lots, but local officials do not consider the incidents as part of a greater-area trend.

A campus-wide email alert was issued Feb. 12 from “Ready@Webster,” a part of the university’s emergency notification system. The email described a Feb. 11 incident as “under investigation” and that arrests were made. The suspects were not affiliated with the university.

The Journal requested the arrest reports, but Webster Groves police were unable to verify the status of the case at press time.

Campus crime logs, available at Webster University Department of Public Safety (WUDPS), reported that the Feb. 11 theft occurred on the second floor of the Garden Park Plaza garage between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m., and that personal items were stolen from the vehicle.

WUDPS Director Rick Gerger said the university gives his department flexibility on the ground to keep students and their property safe.

“If an event takes place and draws our attention, we’ll most certainly provide additional manpower to that area with extra patrols and things of that nature,” Gerger said.

The alert was issued at Gerger’s discretion as a “timely warning,” a type of alert that is spelled out in the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. Webster must publish the report every year as part of its compliance with the Clery Act – the 1990 consumer protection law that requires all colleges who receive federal funding to report campus crime information to the public.

The law requires the university to demonstrate that it has an emergency response system in place. Part of that system is the email alert, “Ready@Webster.”

Webster Groves police spokesperson Andy Miller said these recent incidents do not indicate a trend. He said that a thief, or group of thieves, often show up in an area for a time and then move on.

“This can happen anywhere, not just in Webster Groves, so I’m not going to speculate. But any theft, of any kind, is something to be concerned about,” Miller said.

A Webster Groves Police Dept. press release Jan. 29 stated that a majority of the recent vehicle-related incidents involved cars that were left unlocked. But in instances where entry was made by breaking doors and windows, valuable items like laptops and purses were left in view.

The WUDPS logs also reported a similar incident Jan. 13. That time, a student had items removed from his vehicle on the first floor of garage between 5:30 and 7 p.m. On Jan. 26, a purse was removed from an unlocked vehicle in Lot H around the same time of day.

Mollie Grossmann is the Clery Compliance Officer at Webster, a position required by the Clery Act. She is responsible for collecting the information published in the annual report, including requests for law enforcement data on crimes occurring on Webster property.

However, not all the data Grossmann coordinates is listed in the annual report.

“The campus crime log lists all crimes and the Annual Security Report is a very specific list of crimes that we have to collect data on,” Grossmann said.

Webster Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said the intention of the Clery Act was to raise awareness of the personal safety of students on campus. Someone breaking into a car when a student is not in any immediate danger is precluded from the annual report.

“A motor vehicle theft is recorded in the annual report if the actual vehicle is taken, but breaking into a car is not,” Grossmann said.

Only the Feb. 11 break-in was referred to Webster Groves police and will not be counted in next year’s report. Once WUDPS refers the case to local police, the remaining investigation occurs off-campus.

Gerger said  municipal police in these cases would be able to better establish if there was any continuity among the break-ins and if the cases are all related.

Miller said if a student sees a crime in progress on campus, do not engage the suspect.

“Number one: don’t jeopardize your own safety. Get away. After that, contact us. Call 911. A 911 call will route directly to the Webster Groves Police Department,” Miller said.

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