University of Maryland Fights Spike in Robberies

Two University of Maryland-area robberies on Friday have sounded the alarm for University Police, as it becomes apparent students are increasingly being targeted by outsiders for cash and valuables and officials attempt to find a means to quell the spike.

University Police said a staff meeting that convened Monday planned deterrents such as increased patrols in the wake of the robberies, but there appeared to be some confusion Monday over a key third course of action routinely taken by University Police.

In interviews with two University Police officials, it was unclear how much communication there had been with Prince George's County Police, who were dealing with an array of similar incidents in the city last week. Maj. Kevin Davis, who commands county police in the district where College Park is located, said Monday morning he was not aware of the on-campus robberies.

University Police spokeswoman Maj. Cathy Atwell said it was possible Davis did not know of the robberies because his concentration is on patrols rather than investigations. Atwell said the university's criminal investigations division had been in touch with county detectives, which works independently of patrols in the district.

Both Atwell and Police Chief Ken Krouse said they are still adjusting to the change of administration in the district, which may have created an additional problem in communicating the robberies to Davis. Krouse also noted Maj. Paul Dillon, the "key person to interact" with county police, was out for back surgery.

Atwell said Cpt. Larry Volz, who was filling in for Dillon, had called Maj. Davis to let him know about the robberies sometime yesterday morning. Davis did not answer the phone, Volz told Atwell, and a voice message was left.

In the reporting of the robberies by students, both Krouse and Atwell said investigations were being hampered because of the way students were reporting the crimes to police. In one instance, Atwell said, a student left a voicemail reporting a robbery rather than calling dispatchers.

That robbery took place Dec. 9 at 2:45 a.m. but was not reported until 6:45 p.m. the next day, resulting in a gap of 40 hours between the crime and the report.

Inter-agency reporting suffered gaps as well. After the last crime, an attempted robbery that took place on Sunday morning at about 4:45 a.m., it took Cpt. Volz more than 24 hours to notify District 1 police of the three crimes.

"I have been assured we have had the conversations," Atwell said of communication with Prince George's Police. "I think we're doing what we can to work with the county."

Police officials have repeatedly said criminals know no borders, and the past two weeks of crime in College Park has exemplified that point. After two street robberies Nov. 30, Davis deployed a robbery suppression unit in an attempt to catch perpetrators.

Atwell speculated the effectiveness of that unit may have been felt on the campus this weekend.

"Has the county's robbery suppression unit now pushed the robberies up onto the campus?" Atwell asked rhetorically. "It's very possible."

S. Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, an organization that promotes safety at colleges and universities, said inter-agency communication was likely not as important as increasing patrols, as University Police said they have.

"Robberies are something that can result from economic concerns and patrolling issues," Carter said. Of increasing patrols, he said, "The university should do that if their students need it. I think they've recognized that fact, especially when it comes to the robberies."

Atwell and Krouse also said the university had approved funds to add six more patrol officers to the staff, bringing the total number of staff to 91. The addition of patrols came after a reassessment of local crime trends, they each said.

This year's number of on-campus robberies broke records, and in addition to focusing on record number of robberies, Carter said it was more alarming to see robberies had nearly doubled since last year.

The addition of the six patrol officers, set to join the force by next summer, was a highly positive sign, Carter said.

"That to me indicates a very serious recognition of the issue," Carter said. "I know that's frustrating in the short run because you might need them now. But you can't snap your fingers and have six officers walking the beat."

(C) 2005 The Diamondback via U-WIRE