After a string of thefts around first-year dormitories, the University Police Department is performing extra patrols around all on-Grounds housing areas. The decision comes after several bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters have been stolen from the racks outside dorm buildings within the past few weeks.
University Police Department Sergeant Ben Rexrode explained that small cutting tools have led to an increase in the theft of locked bikes.
“We’re looking at at least one [theft] a day, sometimes two,” Rexrode said.
Although bike thefts have become more common this year, this issue has been ongoing for at least a year before UPD made the decision to increase security on Grounds.
Second-year College student Ava Hollis had her unlocked bike stolen last year from the first-year dorms area. She reported the incident to the police department and put up flyers, but it was never recovered. Hollis said the police tried to be helpful but didn’t have sufficient resources to find her bike.
“[Police] were able to find video footage, but it was too grainy to identify the person,” Hollis said. “They tried … but what's the point of video that can't actually identify people?”
Rexrode said the reinforced security presence will be a short-term solution aimed at preventing these crimes. In addition, the officers will be security officers, as opposed to armed police officers.
“We’re trying to put some more visibility there to deter these in the short-term until hopefully our investigations can lead to some arrests,” Rexrode said. “We’re putting a lot of our resources into it.”
Hollis questioned whether this higher visibility will help prevent other thefts.
“I think that a lot of times, people are just in a rush and they're trying to take something quick to leave,” Hollis said. “So maybe it will help — I'm not really sure.”
This increased police presence comes almost a year after the start of UPD’s Community-Oriented Police Squad program. After a rise in reported crimes last year, a group of four police officers was assigned to high-traffic areas off-Grounds, like the Corner, and areas around 14th, 15th and Wertland Street areas. UPD joins patrols in this area with the Charlottesville Police Department. One of the program’s goals was to improve community relations by talking with students and business owners about what they could do better.
The increased police presence has faced opposition from students. A cohort of students from the School of Law issued a letter Oct. 6 objecting to the University Police Department’s creation of COPS. The students disagreed with the notion that public safety issues should be addressed with an increased police presence.
UPD implemented the ambassador program in 2015. While ambassadors are not police, they patrol areas adjacent to Grounds and may assist students and alert relevant law enforcement of potential incidents — they do not hold arrest powers.
Data comparing the six months before COPS’ implementation to the first six months it was in place shows a decrease in reported aggravated assaults, simple assaults and shots fired. Yet there was also an increase in DUIs and robberies — and other crimes, like burglaries, did not change.
Rexrode said some of this increase can be attributed to the fact that these crimes would have otherwise gone unreported.
“More eyes and ears means more things being seen and reported,” Rexrode said. “Overall, they’ve had a pretty good impact and are well-known. I know all of the Corner merchants really appreciate them being there.”
Hollis felt that the ambassadors and off-Grounds police did not do enough. She believes that UPD is not proactive enough in their policing and instead seems reactive.
“I don't really think the police are doing enough when homeless people are heckling students right outside the police station,” Hollis said. “It seems like [the ambassadors] are only at an issue when it's too late.”