Crime spree

Sarah McKenzie

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find a stranger rummaging through your closet and dresser drawers.
Since November, half a dozen students living in fraternities, sororities and other student housing have had similarly harrowing experiences.
In an effort to make student housing less vulnerable to crime, University Police Detective Marianne Olson hopes to enlist students’ help in identifying — and eventually apprehending — pattern criminals through the Minnesota Crime Alert Network.
Network members receive faxes and information from local law enforcement agencies when police need help finding a missing person or a suspect in a crime.
Peter Schuna, a junior in the College of Biological Sciences, said his fraternity house, Delta Tau Delta, has had two run-ins with suspicious people in the past month.
One morning in early December, Schuna and his roommate woke up to find their wallets missing. Schuna found his wallet in the hallway.
His roommate Matt Cummings, a sophomore in the Carlson School of Management, wasn’t so lucky. His wallet was gone along with two credit cards, $40 in cash and Gopher men’s basketball tickets.
Schuna said he thinks the culprit got in through the fire escape. Two weeks later, two unknown men showed up at a party at the house, who claimed they were looking for “Dave Williams.” They then changed their story and said they were looking for Williams Arena.
Further cause for the roommates’ suspicions: The dubious duo knew the exact location of said fire escape, in spite of its obscure placement.
“My concern is that this person could be capable of assault,” Olson said.
Police have made no arrests, but Olson said she believes one suspect may be responsible for 10 break-ins on campus since Thanksgiving. She described the suspect as a black male in his early 20s.
Wallets, cash, credit cards and jewelry are the items most frequently stolen during the capers. When confronted, she said, the man usually says he is drunk and then walks out of the room.
“If I see a pattern of crime in the area I can let people know,” Olson said. “This is a good way to make people more aware.”
Olson recently sent out letters to seven sororities, 17 fraternities and a handful of University and non-University owned campus properties.
More than 100 businesses and organizations in the area belong to the network. But only two sororities, the Como Student Community and the Dinnaken Properties have expressed interest in joining.
“I hadn’t heard about the break-ins until I got the letter,” said Amy Anderson, Lambda Delta Phi sorority president. Her house joined the network to become more aware of criminal activity.
Brian Liston, property manager of the Dinnaken Properties, said his apartment complex rarely has crime trouble.
One person got into the building last year despite security measures requiring a key card for all entrances.
“We joined to keep updated about problems in the neighborhood,” Liston said. “We want to keep our tenants informed about what is going on.”
The University Police Department has been a member of the network since its inception in 1994. Larry Anderson, a retired University Police detective, was instrumental in planning the organization, Olson said.
“So far it has been a statewide organization, but we hope to go national,” Olson said.
Olson attributes two successes to the crime network; last year she found a missing University student in Texas and arrested another student making bomb threats.
In each case, she got crucial tips from other agencies connected to the network, she said.
The program does not cost any money for members; participating organizations need only have a fax machine. But the advisory board may seek donations from members in the near future.