By Sofi Goode
In response to student concern regarding recent trespassing incidents in woodframe houses, the Department of Public Safety (PSafe) has closed all investigations and is looking to reclassify some of the reported incidents.
Director of Public Safety Scott Rohde believes that the majority of trespassing incidents reported to PSafe are not motivated by criminal intent.
“Most of those people trying to come into a house or dwelling or backyard don’t have the intent to commit a crime,” Rohde said. “A lot of it’s intoxication, going into the wrong house. Some of it may well be ‘Hey, let me look around and see if I can party here.’ A lot of those events that I’ve looked at, there was a reason for that. Or when we talked with the person, they just plain didn’t know where they were; they were looking for a friend.”
Rohde stated that he would like to draw a distinction between illegal trespassing and incidents in which there is no attempt to commit a crime.
“What I’m looking at is probably calling those different things,” Rohde said. “We really want to provide the best information when people look at the log or a report. I think sometimes we’re scaring people….We’re going to report them, but we’re going to try to explain in plain language what [the incidents] were… We’re better trying to represent what’s happening.”
However, several students have expressed concern that there is a significant number of incidents that may be more dangerous.
According to the woodframe house listserv, a house was broken into around midnight on Sept. 30. A resident found a woman in the kitchen, holding a bottle of alcohol. The woman claimed to be a friend of one of the residents and left before entering another house on Warren Street. The same email states that Public Safety discovered that the woman had entered through an unlocked window.
An anonymous resident stated that Public Safety contacted the Middletown Police Department and that he felt the responding PSafe officers handled the situation extremely well.
“PSafe responded very quickly, and [the officers] were super understanding and adamant that it was a problem…. They understood that it was a huge security concern that someone was breaking and entering into our house while we were not in the common living space…I think the University responded with appropriate security measures by adding security to our house that wasn’t there before.”
Although he emphasized the professionalism and efficiency of the PSafe officers, the resident expressed concern with the idea that such an incident may no longer be classified as trespassing. Although an alleged suspect was identified, there were no arrests made. The resident further stated that it is believed that the woman had been breaking into the house regularly since the beginning of September.
“It is trespassing and not only is it trespassing, it’s breaking and entering,” the student said. “This person was breaking into our house to steal stuff from us. There clearly wasn’t a party happening…. The fact that for four weeks someone was coming into our house while we were either asleep or not there and taking stuff from us is really freaky.”
Another woodframe house resident reported an incident early in the morning of Friday, Oct. 3. The student stated that she was sitting in the kitchen of he house around 4 a.m. when the back door rattled. She called PSafe. The officer who arrived on the scene found no trespassers present.
The student asserted that she feels it was likely that the trespasser intended to steal from the house.
“My house is in a very central location, so I would be pretty convinced that it was someone who was confused, except for the fact that it was four in the morning,” she said. “It seems like a pretty late hour for someone to just be wandering drunk. It seems like a pretty good hour that someone would assume that everyone in the house was asleep and that they could come in and take something.”
The resident stated that after the incident, she asked Physical Plant to install a deadbolt on her door, but her request was denied due to fire code restrictions.
“My door only locks automatically by being shut,” she said. “There is no manual locking on my door and the only deadbolt I have is a very rusty chain on the back door…. I don’t quite understand why fire codes are preventing deadbolts…. If we’re going to spend as much attention to fire codes in terms of capacity as we seem to be doing, I don’t understand why we can’t also look at the actual foundation of these houses and make sure that it wouldn’t take more than a little jiggle to open a door and for someone to come into the house.”
The resident further stressed the importance of securing woodframe houses to ensure that students feel safe.
“There’s no eliminating people from the community or people from campus who will either accidentally try to go into the wrong house or more purposely try to trespass,” she said. “More important than finding those people is making sure that if those people are around, the houses are secure and that students feel safe in their own houses. With the nature of the woodframe houses, a lot of them are so old that the problem really lies in that there’s not a lot of precautions that students can take.”
According to Rohde, the number of reports of trespassing has been consistently decreasing over the past few weeks. He stated that warmer weather may have been a factor in the increased number of minor incident toward the beginning of the semester.
“Unseasonably warm nights tend to encourage more parties and they tend to go longer,” Rohde said. “Rainy, colder, windier nights tend to push that activity more inside and, for whatever reason, tend to [make parties] close down earlier. That is one thing that is an environmental factor…. In the last couple of weeks, they’ve declined, and that’s consistent with what the staff report’s seeing [in a regular school year].”