Dorm Thefts Raise Doubts Over Security
by Tobias Smith

Twelve rooms in the Lord wing of Lord-Saunders (Afrikan Heritage House) and Price (Third World House) dormitories were reported burglarized or illegally entered over Winter Term.The burglaries, which showed no signs of forced entry, were reported over the span of a month, from Jan. 8 until early February. At least one of the burglaries took place during a trial period of limited dorm access instituted by ResLife, during which time students’ I.D. cards would not let them enter buildings, other than their own.
At roughly the same time as the thefts, a master key, which could have given an individual access to the burglarized rooms, disappeared. “The Facility Manager noted that a master key was missing. We don’t know if that is connected,” Director of Residential Life and Services Kim LaFond said.
The Oberlin police department could not be reached for comment as to whether any Oberlin College employees are suspects in the case.
“There are people who work in the buildings, the craftspeople who make repairs, they have masters [keys]. We’re working with maintenance to institute a program [in which] maintenance would have to swipe to get into the building,” LaFond said. “Our view, with the card swipe system, whether it’s employee or student, they need to swipe their card to get into the building.”
This comment comes on the heels of ResLife’s choice to implement a Winter Term trial period of limited card access for students. Outside security contractors advised the school that limiting dorm access to residents would increase safety, a claim that was only marginally substantiated in practice. “The experiment that we set up would only, could only, work during Winter Term. What we found was that there was a benefit, but for us, it was a small benefit,” Associate Director of Residential Life and Services Tracy Murry said.

Safety and Security did not find serious changes in campus security over the trial period. “I didn’t see any major red flags come up but [also] didn’t see any graduation in [crime] status,” Director of Safety and Security Robert Jones said.
Students who were robbed may disagree. “On Feb. 2, when I called Safety and Security, no one knew that more than two thefts had occurred. I had to inform [the officer] that at least eight other thefts had happened,” sophomore Dwayne Brice said.
ResLife has no plans to permanently institute limited card access in the near future. Even so, many students express concern about ResLife’s choice to institute the limited card access trial. Some students felt that the announcement of the trial program, delivered via e-mail just days before winter break, was an end-run attempt to slip a controversial program past students.

Murry met with students over break to address their concerns. “There were much fewer [student complaints] than I expected,” Murry said. About 25 students met with Murry. Some were concerned that the program infringed upon student rights. Others felt that it actually threatened their safety, because more students would prop open doors, and students who felt harassed on the street couldn’t find safety in the buildings around them.

“I was here over commencement last year when they tried to do the same thing, and it was a disaster,” senior Alicia D’addario said. “I was really worried that doors would be propped open.”

ResLife acknowledges that, in many ways, the program was badly administered. “One thing that I agree with is that the timing for information sharing was poorly done. The reason was that we had to meet with the Housing and Dining committee before we talked to the student population. I didn’t know we would be instituting this program until the Tuesday or Wednesday before break,” Murry said.
However, Murry says that not all the responses were negative. “About one third of students e-mailed saying that it was a good idea,” Murry said.

Some students feel that ResLife’s choice to implement the program was undemocratic. “The decision was made in spite of the fact that there were mixed feelings about it on the Housing and Dining committee,” Student Senator Alex Zorach said. “There were no students involved in the procedure.”
Students who have been effected by crime on campus doubt the effectiveness of scan cards. “A non-working scan card wouldn’t have kept him out. He picked my lock. The inconvenience of scancards is not a price I’m willing to pay” said a student whose room was illegally entered last semester.
The recent string of burglaries demonstrates that restricting students’ ability to enter buildings is not enough to deter crime. “It was not a matter of having a card, it was a matter of having a key,” Ronni Armstead, a first year whose room in Lord was burglarized, said. The burglars in Lord and Price managed to steal many items, including, but not limited to: three computers, minidisc players, compact discs worth hundreds of dollars, answering machines, a watch, a textbook and a pair of shoes.
“We need to have additional ways of actively protecting students,” Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith.
The fact that both Lord and Price are minority program houses raises troubling questions about the intent of the burglars. However, there is no evidence that the crimes were racially motivated. “I think it was a crime of opportunity,” Jones said.
“It is strange that it is the people of color houses, but I don’t want to suppose that as the cause. It could have been random theft,” senior Camille Newman said.

The College administration and Safety and Security have been slow to act on the crimes. “The rooms that were effected, those [locks] were changed early last week, the other room’s [locks] were changed later in the week,” Kim LaFond said. These changes came more than three weeks after the first case was reported. Additionally, Safety and Security hasn’t, this semester, posted alerts of the crimes. Campus media have not until now reported these events.
“The Lord students invited me to meet with them, and we invited all the students,” LaFond said. Price residents say however, that they weren’t aware of the meeting.
In addition to security changes, the school has offered to help compensate affected students. “The college feels a responsibility because rooms were unlocked. We are asking students to report thefts to Safety and Security. We are then asking students to go to their family housing insurance. If they don’t have insurance...I will help them make a claim to the College,” LaFond said. In addition, the computer center is helping to supply the students with temporary computers.
“I have faith. They will reimburse us, but we have no specifics, no details. We don’t know when. Do they need to see receipts?” junior Dwayne Brice said.

Some students, however, wonder if ResLife will live up to its word. “I was slighted. I wasn’t notified by the college. My report got taken at the beginning of the second week of winter term, but then the e-mail sent by [Program House Administrator] Ehrai Adams wasn’t sent to me. ResLife was completely unprofessional,” Newman said.

February 15
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