Anxiety grows amidst dorm thefts
Justin Tardiff | Thursday, November 3, 2005
A growing wave of concern about theft and trespassing is sweeping campus as police, rectors and students testify to a disturbing increase in crimes committed this year by people outside Notre Dame.
Unlocked doors, stolen items and suspicious sightings have led to student unrest, leading the residents of one men’s dorm to prominently display their outrage.
“It seems like some people are targeting us this year,” Zahm rector Father Dan Parrish said, adding residents are so inflamed that they have posted signs in the hallways and bathrooms warning of one frequent intruder.
Zahm is just one example of a campus-wide trend noticed by Assistant Director of Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) Phil Johnson.
“I’m concerned,” Johnson said. “We’ve had several burglaries, a few arrests already [this year].”
In both recent cases with suspect descriptions, the perpetrators were men. Johnson speculated this could be the reason men’s halls seem to be the theft targets.
“Perhaps as men, [the perpetrators would be] more out of place in a women’s hall,” he said.
A South Bend man, previously arrested by NDSP for illegally entering Alumni, was arrested again Monday for criminal trespass and false information after police found him in possession of belongings stolen from Dillon residents, including laptop computers, jewelry and DVDs, Johnson said.
A student inside Alumni spotted the man knocking on a door in attempts to enter the dorm just before 10 a.m., Johnson said.
The student recognized the man – arrested on Aug. 23 for criminal trespass and served a trespass notice on Jan. 5 – and immediately called NDSP, Johnson said.
Officers arrested the man just south of Alumni, near the Morris Inn. Dillon rector Father Paul Doyle said the possessions were all identified returned to Dillon residents.
“It’s a tough combination when we’re all so trusting, when we open doors for people and leave our own door unlocked,” Doyle said. “This is our home. We don’t expect this but it happens.”
And it’s something Zahm residents can attest to.
Johnson reported “suspicious activity” in Zahm on Oct. 27, where students watched a man enter an unlocked room. Suspicions aroused, the students approached the man, who said he was “looking for George.” Since they didn’t know anyone by that name, the students called NDSP, Johnson said.
By that time, however, it was too late. Johnson said the man – described as “a male, white, 40 to 50 years old, with brown and gray hair, slightly balding with a widows peak and mustache, wearing gold-rim tinted sunglasses, a brown Carhart jacket, a blue shirt and blue jeans” – fled Zahm and rode off on a bike.
“The investigation is continuing,” Johnson said Tuesday.
But for Zahm residents, the investigation has been going on for a while. The man in question is known around the dorm as “WD40,” or “white d—bag age 40.”
“Everybody knows him,” said junior Pat Knapp, who explained that the same man had been seen wandering around the dorm several times before this latest incident.
Posters warning residents of WD40 are tacked through the halls and in the bathroom stalls.
While this man is not directly linked to this year’s rash of thefts – which Parrish said include five laptops, over $500 in cash, a number of wallets and DVD players – students suggested he could be a suspect.
“I probably should have taken [the signs] down,” Parrish said. “I left signs up because the guys were really upset.”
Resident assistant Chris Bodington said he had never seen the “lurking” man, but had heard rumors.
“It’s just weird that somebody from off campus is wandering around the dorm,” he said. Bodington recalled the story of a second-floor resident who went across the hallway for 20 minutes and came back to his room to find money stolen.
“Zahm’s kind of a place with an open-door policy,” Bodington said.
But Wednesday night, there were a lot of shut doors. Bodington said he has begun to lock his doors, all the time.
“Even if I’m just going to the fourth floor,” he said.
The locked-door policy is spreading across campus.
“There’s more locked doors … definitely they’re locking their doors,” Morrissey rector Father Ronald Vierling said. “We’re a very welcoming community, not that we want to live this way behind locked doors, but we’ve got to respond to situations accordingly and create conditions so theft decreases.”
There have been two thefts this year in Morrissey, Vierling said. He said the first incident involved a bicycle, and the other involved laptop computers, a wallet and watch.
While only in his first year as Morrissey’s rector, Vierling still spoke to a trend of increasing theft.
“From what I understand, this is the first time we’ve been hit this way,” he said.
Keenan is also experiencing more problems this year, rector Father Mark Thesing said.
“This stuff seems to run in cycles. We’ve had more [thefts] this year than in past years,” Thesing said. “I’m a little concerned myself about the continuation of [these crimes]. Often the rectors on the edges of campus – at places like Alumni, Dillon or Knott – have more of a problem than at places like Keenan where you have to walk in a bit [to reach the dorm].”
Thesing said four thefts – including two laptops, a cell phone, a wallet and an iPod – occurred in Keenan during mid-to-late September.
Despite these crimes, Thesing doesn’t see any change in safety measures practiced by students.
“The individuals from whom the items were stolen were visibly upset, however there has not been a general consensus [of anger] within the hall,” Thesing said. “They aren’t more vigilant and these incidents have not changed their behavior. There are those students who always lock their doors and then there are those students who never lock their doors.”
Alumni rector George Rozum, who said he didn’t consider theft or trespassing to be a bigger problem in his dorm, agreed with Thesing about the issue of students not locking their doors.
“What can you do?” Rozum said. “You tell people to lock their doors and be careful who they let in the outside doors, but people usually leave many doors unlocked anyways.”
This attitude, Johnson said, is exactly what NDSP wants to combat.
“Don’t let people you don’t know in the residence hall. Notre Dame students are very polite, judicious,” Johnson said. “Don’t prop open locked doors or defeat security measures. Lock your room when you sleep or are away for a few minutes. If you see suspicious activity, report it immediately.
“We really need student help to stop burglary.”