By Beth Spain
A lot can happen in a four-minute trip away from your office; rather, a lot can be stolen. Carrie Whaley, professor of education, returned Aug. 19, to find her desk open. She knew she was a victim when she realized a thief stole her new purse.
As a self-defense instructor, Whaley said she thought she was more aware of her surroundings, especially since e-mails had been circulating about thefts on campus. Whaley told her husband to cancel the credit cards, and she called Safety and Security.
Joey Hale, assistant director of Safety and Security, and his colleagues have been on the alert since a string of thefts began July 29. Hale said he “jumped in his Gator,” and within minutes, they were hunting the hallway of the Blasingame Academic Complex.
“Raise your awareness of your surroundings,” Hale said. If anyone notices a person looking out of place, “do not be afraid to say ‘Can I help you?’”
Even with more people back on campus, crime has not been deterred. On Aug. 30, Hale said Michael Dennison, a first-shift security officer, noticed a man looking into office windows. Dennison approached him and asked for identification. He did not have any identification, but said his name was “Brandon Smith” and he was a physical education major on the basketball team.
As Smith was escorted to the security office, Dennison questioned him about the team and his coach. When Smith could not remember his alleged coach’s name, Hale said Dennison knew the story did not add up. When his license plates were checked, the names did not match.
Smith was later released from the office after he was warned not to trespass by the Jackson Madison County Police Department.
“You are still safe, but your stuff is not,” Hale said. “These people are not looking to ‘hold you up,’ they are looking for an easy target.”
Hale encouraged the Union community to watch for individuals walking without intention through hallways. Safety and Security welcomes phone calls, and the team will respond and check out any situation.
July 29, Joy Moore, director of program services, whose office is located in the Penick Academic Complex, reported the theft of her billfold.
“It made me really sad to know someone would do that — to be willing to take from someone and to keep repeating it across campus,” Moore said.
Reviewing the cases, Hale said females seemed to be a target, and the crimes were concentrated in the PAC, BAC and the Barefoot Student Union Building. He said police could not say if the thefts were just one suspect or multiple people.
Hale said he often notices students settling into the library, arranging their laptop and books and then leaving. He challenged students to value their belongings and encouraged them not to think of keeping their items locked up as a chore, but as a way of protecting their belongings and identity.
“In a place like [Union], you do not expect people to do this,” Moore said. “It is just a piece of the world we are not accustomed to.”