c/o Nicole Lee

c/o Nicole Lee

One or more unknown suspects broke into four student vehicles—three in the Vine Street parking lot and one in the Cross Street lot—on the evening of Monday, Nov. 6, according to a campus-wide email sent by Director of Public Safety (PSafe) Scott Rohde. A PSafe officer reported two more attempted thefts at the Vine Street and Union (between Pine Street and Fountain Avenue) lots in the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 8. PSafe and the Middletown Police Department (MPD) are currently investigating the incidents, including using DNA evidence, but there are no new leads at the time of publication.

Although these cases were reported on different days, it is undetermined at the moment whether all six occurred at the same time. The unknown suspect or suspects mostly followed the same pattern for the six vehicles that have reported damage, according to MPD reports: The perpetrator broke the rear passenger window, entered the vehicle, and ransacked it looking for valuables or an opportunity to hot wire and steal the car.

While vehicular thefts have occurred on campus in previous years, this was an abnormally high number of attempted thefts, especially within 24 hours of each other. The most recent cases on campus were the thefts of a Stonehedge Landscaping pickup truck on Nov. 17, 2022; a student’s car from the WesWings parking lot on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022; another student’s car from the High/Low Rise parking lot on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022; and an UberEats driver’s vehicle from the High/Low Rise parking lot on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Two out of three of the vehicles stolen in 2022 were recovered. 

Beyond Wesleyan, the MPD has noticed a recent rise in perpetrators breaking into vehicles through windows.

“What’ll often happen is we will get a host of break-ins…and it’ll be isolated to one particular area over the course of a day or two, and then it’ll stop for a period of time,” MPD Captain Brian Hubbs said. “If it’s the same crew, they’ll focus on another area in the town so that we have no ability to detect and apprehend them.” 

One of the student vehicles that was damaged in the Cross Street lot near Freeman Athletic Center was owned by Matthew May ’25, who noticed the vandalism around 7:00 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 6. 

“I came back from practice and realized my center console was open and then saw my back window was also smashed in,” May said. “They didn’t take anything, which I’m really happy about, but [it’s] just an extra thing to deal with with everything else I got going on.”

In response to the recent rise in thefts on campus, PSafe has been increasing security and changing their tactics. Rohde explained that it is difficult to control property crimes, especially vehicular crimes, and that PSafe has been targeting their efforts toward preventing further attempted thefts and vandalism.

“What we have to do is mix up our situation or our pattern,” Rohde said. “There are certain times, for example, we routinely do patrols of the library, of the fishbowl study areas. There’s certain times that we routinely lock up certain buildings…so we’re doing it either earlier or later and not being as predictable if the person or persons are watching to see where officers may be.” 

Additionally, PSafe has been using unmarked vehicles to monitor parking lots without alerting potential criminals to their presence. 

“One thing we did last night was we had personnel driving through lots not in Public Safety vehicles, either in their personal car or we have a couple vehicles here that are not marked Public Safety,” Rohde said. “We are doing some patrols with those kinds of vehicles to make sure we’re getting eyes on but we don’t look as obvious.” 

The MPD has also responded to the crimes, conducting frequent property checks around the Vine Street lot. The MPD is currently working with PSafe to review security camera footage and attempt to track down the perpetrators. 

Although this is the first time an all-campus email has gone out about this type of crime this year—and the first time so many cars were hit all at once—incidents where cars were broken into and the center console was ransacked have happened on campus before. Will Shull ’25 reported that his car was broken into twice in the past year, once outside his residence on Pearl Street this past September. 

“It had been forcefully entered, [and] didn’t break any windows,” Shull said. “They took only my charging cord, which was extremely inconvenient…. The center console was left open. My globe box was down, all the papers were out.”

The first break-in occurred after Shull unintentionally left his car unlocked, which prompted him to be more vigilant when parking in the future.

“I had made a point after the first time it was broken into to almost excessively overlock my car to make sure it wouldn’t happen again,” Shull said. “I just kind of felt really uneasy and [unnerved] that it had been violated in some sort of way.”

Although PSafe has increased its response in attempts to prevent further crimes from happening, May expressed frustration that campus has not been a safe enough space for his car.

“I’m just a little upset that I feel like when I go to Freeman or anywhere else on campus—a Wesleyan-sanctioned parking lot or whatever it is—I should feel safe knowing my car is not gonna get broken into or anything’s gonna happen to it,” May said. “The fact that it happened at Freeman basically in broad daylight doesn’t really sit well with me, especially ’cause there’s nothing, there’s no cameras or anything stopping them from doing anything bad in the lot.”

Shull echoed May’s feelings and expressed discomfort with the current parking spots available to students after the recent destruction of the parking lot closest to Exley as a part of the construction of the new Science Building

“Now, having taken away a lot of those spots, you’re forced to park on some of the outer perimeters of campus where there’s not as much patrol…[like] parking in the Vine lot where those cars were vandalized or the athletics lot behind Freeman,” Shull said. “Having to park on these more peripheral spots at campus definitely doesn’t make me feel comfortable leaving my car.” 

While attempted vehicle thefts are fairly rare, there are cases of valuables being stolen from vehicles every year. Rohde offered some tips for students who are worried about their vehicles being targeted or having items stolen from them.

“Don’t leave valuables in your car, especially if it’s unlocked, or it’s very visible,” Rohde said. “We unlock vehicles for students, and we’ve assisted students in getting AAA here, and they go, ‘Oh, no, it’s okay, I’ve got a key hidden in there….’ Don’t do that.” 

Hubbs echoed the importance of keeping valuables out of sight and locking your car to prevent thefts but also emphasized that anyone whose car is broken into should call the MPD before entering the vehicle after the crime to preserve evidence for the police.

“If you find that your vehicle was damaged or broken into, don’t enter the vehicle until the police have had a chance to respond, because oftentimes we’re not gonna take DNA samples unless it’s glaringly obvious that it’s not their fingerprints or DNA on a particular area,” Hubbs said. “It becomes cross-contaminated, and it becomes problematic for the lab.” 

Although the police were able to get a DNA sample from one of the vehicles broken into this week, this doesn’t always result in leads.

“It often involves juveniles, so it’s difficult for us to get suspects,” Hubbs said. “We’ll get a host of juveniles that’ll come to an area and even if we’re able to collect evidence of a crime, like DNA or fingerprints, a lot of times they wouldn’t be in our database in either capacity.”

Two of the vandalized cars were Hyundais, which have been targeted more often recently because of a viral TikTok video that showed how to break into them. The manufacturer for Hyundais and Kias has developed a free security software in response to the TikTok video. Hyundai owners can call 800-633-5151 and Kia owners can call 800-333-4542 for more information. Hubbs also advised that students with Hyundais or Kias try to get wheel locks, a tool that makes it much more difficult for a thief to drive away with a stolen car.

“The wheel lock has a separate core-locking mechanism,” Hubbs said. “This was an anti-theft device that we utilized years ago when cars were much easier to steal…. What it does is it just spreads through the steering wheel so that the wheel can’t be turned a full distance in either direction.”

For owners of other types of cars, Rohde recommended parking near lighting when possible, checking in on your vehicle frequently, and moving it every three to four days if you aren’t using it often. Additionally, Rohde emphasized the importance of remaining dilligent, especially as the nights get longer. 

“We want to remind people [to] be extra vigilant,” Rohde said. “It’s good common sense to be a little more on the alert side and keep an eye open…. Be more aware of your surroundings for your own personal safety as well as for property safety.” 

Rohde urged students to call in any suspicious activity and report any information that they have about these cases.

“If you do see activity, let us know,” Rohde said. “If anyone has any information, even if they don’t think it’s important, let us know. We always appreciate that.” 

Caleb Henning can be reached at chenning@wesleyan.edu