No answers yet for slew of West Bank break-ins

University of Minnesota police and administrators are baffled over a slew of break-ins and minor thefts plaguing campus buildings.

Ian Larson

University of Minnesota police and administrators are baffled over a slew of break-ins and minor thefts plaguing buildings on the West Bank campus since last fall.
The most recent happened early Saturday morning when an unknown number of people broke into a locked room on the 7th floor of Heller Hall. They didn’t take any valuables, according to a police report.
Overall, there have been about a dozen similar incidents at Heller Hall and about four in the Social Sciences Tower, University police Lt. Erik Swanson said in an e-mail.
The number of related incidents increased during spring semester, Scott Elton, assistant to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said.
Typically, the break-ins occur early in the morning over the weekend after regular staff have left the buildings, Elton said. In most cases, an unknown person enters a locked room by prying off a window or a grate in a door.
Neither Elton nor Swanson knew the cost of repairing the damage.
“The frustrating cost of this has been in both just the anxiety of faculty, staff that are in the building,” Elton said, “and in the cost of the repairs for the damages.”
Security monitors don’t patrol over the weekends, which makes it easier to gain access to the buildings, Elton said. He said he encouraged staff working after-hours to watch out for suspicious behavior.
Swanson called the break-ins “bizarre.” In most instances, the room appeared untouched, although items had been stolen in some cases, such as a laptop and a book.
Police haven’t identified any suspects or motives so far. It’s possible that a student is behind the crimes, but Swanson said there is no way to be sure.
Swanson said he’s hopeful that unrelated security upgrades on the West Bank will help police solve the cases.
Both Heller Hall and the Social Sciences Tower will be upgraded, adding card scanners both to get into the building and to use the elevators, Elton said.
The roughly $500,000 security project, in the works for at least four years, is slated for completion by the end of June, Elton said.
Security cameras will also be included in the upgrades, which police could use to identify the suspects, Swanson said.
A University police patrol division has been policing the buildings on weekends, Swanson said. He declined to comment on the specific timing of the patrols.
Elton praised police response to the crimes, especially after finding a trend in the break-ins.
“They’ve been responsive in this past spring,” Elton said. “This has increasingly gotten their
attention.”
Swanson urged anyone with information about the crimes to contact University police at 612-624-COPS. He said he’s confident the unknown burglar will be caught eventually.
“This person’s luck can’t go on forever.”
String of attempted sexual assaults
Police are looking for a man who attempted to sexually assault a female University student early Friday morning.
The attempted assault was one of at least three similar incidents in nearly three weeks which Minneapolis police believe to be connected.
In each case, the suspect approached a female victim’s window and threatened her both physically and sexually, Minneapolis police Sgt. Bill Palmer said.
In the most recent incident, which occurred at about 4 a.m. on the 400 block of Erie Street Southeast, the man entered the student’s home through a window after threatening her in a manner similar to that reported in the other cases, Palmer said.
After a struggle in her bedroom, the 24-year-old student managed to escape, and the suspect fled on foot, Palmer said.
The victim refused medical attention at the time of the assault.
In this case, the suspect’s behavior escalated from the first two incidents on May 31 and June 7. In the past, he didn’t attempt to enter the victims’ residences before fleeing the scene.
“He’s getting bolder as time has gone on,” Palmer said. “Our concern is that he is going to sexually assault a victim.”
No similar assaults have occurred since the June 11 incident, Minneapolis police Inspector Bryan Schafer said.
Although police will search citywide for the assailant, Palmer said there will be increased resources deployed in the area surrounding the University.
Schafer, commander of the second precinct, enlisted the help of the University police, Minneapolis Park police and a special operations unit, among others, to patrol the areas where the assaults occurred.
Police are searching for a suspect described as “a black male, 5 feet 10 inches to 5 feet 11 inches, light or medium build with shoulder length hair in braids, 18 to 30 years of age,” according to a neighborhood crime alert.
In order to avoid such assaults, it’s important to keep windows closed while sleeping and to contact the police immediately if suspicious behavior occurs, Palmer said.
“We want to make sure that no one is victimized.”
Reported rape at Fairview
A 67-year-old woman told police that she was sexually assaulted at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview on Wednesday night.
The woman alleged she was raped by a hospital employee while she was a patient there, University of Minnesota Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said.
Police have not yet identified a suspect.
“We’re evaluating whether the medical condition has affected her ability to relay some information relevant to the case,” Miner said. “But we’re certainly investigating trying to determine whether it took place and who the suspect might have been.”
Due to HIPPA patient privacy restrictions, Fairview didn’t disclose circumstances related to the case, Fairview Health Services spokeswoman Jennifer Amundson said.
Amundson said any time a patient reports an incident, hospital staff gives the option of notifying police.
Patients are able to request a change of room or nursing staff if they are uncomfortable, she said.