Thefts highlight dorm security

On any given night, getting into a residence hall on campus is as easy as muttering “open sesame” at the doors. With a little luck, time and a friendly face, gaining access to a hall is alarmingly simple.

Such simplicity in residence hall security seemed evident last week after a juvenile male was able to enter Ivory Tower on multiple occasions to steal residents’ electronics and other items. While residents’ doors were unlocked, allowing the alleged thief to enter individual rooms, the man was not stopped or confronted at the entrances of Ivory or New Hall.

“The swiping system helps to some extent,” said LeAnne Blanchette, a sophomore living in Guthridge. “I didn’t have my GWorld card for two days and I had no issue getting (into my dorm). All I had to do was wait five or 10 minutes for someone to come along with a card.”

University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said there are typically between 500 and 700 burglaries on campus each year – between two and three each day – and that 100 to 200 occur in residence halls.

In 2006, about 22 percent of the burglaries happened in residence halls. Stafford added most of the incidents were “preventable thefts, which means that the property that was stolen was left unsecured and/or unattended.”

“Security is a team effort on campus,” Stafford said. “We have physical security measures on campus. If people aren’t using them and they’re letting people trail behind them at exterior doors, they are in essence defeating our security system.”

“Students are always responsible for their guests and should not allow people that they do not know (to) follow them into the buildings,” said Seth Weinshel, a director of GW Housing Programs.

Steven Crittenden, a Domino’s pizza delivery employee, said he’s been able to get into GW residence halls before and has even been able to deliver pizzas directly to customers’ doors.

“I’m a pizza guy, they’re not trying to keep me out, they’re trying to let me in,” Crittenden said. Crittenden added that his generally young appearance also helps him get into the buildings.

Only two residence halls on campus, Thurston and Potomac, have 24-hour officers. Stafford said there is a 24-hour UPD officer at Thurston because of the high volume of people in and out of the building, as well as problems with students’ behavior and noise. Officers at both buildings monitor the cameras there for suspicious activity, though footage from other buildings’ security cameras is only used for investigative purposes, Stafford said.

Some GW students said they feel the University has misplaced priorities when it comes to security.

“Campus security should be less preoccupied with underage drinking and more concerned with protecting students,” senior Erika Hastings said.

Hastings’ roommate in New Hall, Hibben Silvo, said students who leave their doors unlocked are asking for trouble. Silvo added that it can be difficult to tell whether or not someone tailgating residents into a building is a GW student or not.

“Unless it’s a 30-year old man walking in who looks really out of place, students can’t really tell,” Silvo said.

Students said they do not find it difficult to stretch the rules on entering dorms.

“(Security) is pretty lax,” freshman Mike Earthal said. “They do the best the can, but the best can only be so much.”

When large groups of freshmen enter Thurston, where he lives, it’s hard for security officers to ensure each student swipes his or her GWorld card.

Additionally, freshmen have found ways around having to sign in friends who may attend other universities or who live in other buildings.

Security measures at other universities vary. New York University’s campus security report states that all of their undergraduate residence halls have a 24-hour security officer in the building and graduate housing has either a doorman or a 24-hour patrol officer. NYU requires that guests be signed into buildings and leave a picture ID at the security desk. Plans for installing turnstiles that allow students to use their ID cards and a PIN are in the works and should be completed by the end of 2007, according to an NYU campus security report.

Marc Robillard, director of housing at Boston University, said 11 of BU’s largest residence halls have full-time officers to enforce security policies. Students need to swipe their ID cards or use a key to enter smaller residences.

BU’s guest policy was revised this year. Previously, no overnight guest of the opposite sex was allowed at BU. The current policy allows students to sign in visitors up until 2 a.m. After that time, any visitors are considered overnight guests and students need to complete a form with their roommates’ signatures along with a copy of a guests’ ID. The procedure is the same for guests that are BU students or outside visitors. Additionally, students cannot host overnight guests the first two weeks of school or during exam periods.

“There should be a time of day when you should reasonably expect to be able to sleep or study in your room without interruptions,” Robillard said. “We felt that 2 a.m. was a reasonable time.”

Third-year BU student Elizabeth Planje said BU students generally feel the policy is too strict. “Off-campus students can’t get into any dorm without being signed in. Off-campus students are treated the same as non-BU students in the large dorms,” Planje said.

Though BU’s security measures may be strict on guests, the policy doesn’t prevent incidents from happening. Planje said a friend who lived in a large dorm once woke up to a drunken, naked man sleeping on her couch. The man turned out to be the cousin of another student from a different floor.

“It’s not like they do background checks on people,” Planje said. “There’s no way to avoid that except to lock your door.”

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