Campus area sees increase in crime this spring

Campus area sees increase in crime this spring
A Campus Safety vehicle sits parked outside the Commons on Commons Drive. Photo by Olivia Bertino.

Warmer spring weather has prompted an uptick in crime and suspicious activity in the campus area, as April witnessed a break-in, strangers knocking on doors and a man masturbating in parking lots.

On April 13, an unknown male subject broke into an off-campus residence that several female Augustana students live in. The house was in the campus neighborhood, which Campus Safety defines as a three-block radius around campus.

According to Rick Tupper, the associate vice president of Campus Safety and logistics, the incident occurred around 2 a.m., when one of the residents woke up to the subject in her bedroom. She startled him, and he ran out of the house.

Tupper said the residents of the home checked to ensure the windows and doors were locked before they went to bed, but the subject most likely gained entry into the house through an unlocked window.

“We can only assume that the person was trying windows and doors to find unlocked access, and unfortunately, he found that space,” Tupper said.

The students immediately reported the incident to the Sioux Falls Police Department and notified the university in the afternoon.

Weeks after the break-in, the future of the case remains uncertain. Because of the dark bedroom, Tupper said the resident was unable to produce a specific description of the subject.

“What the police have to go on is very limited,” Tupper said.

However, Tupper also said Campus Safety will continue to report suspicious activity in the neighborhood to the police in the hopes of finding a connection to the case.

A week prior to the off-campus break-in, a Campus Safety officer observed a suspicious man outside on Summit Avenue around 4 a.m. As the officer went to approach the subject, he fled in a vehicle.

“The officer was able to get a license plate number,” Tupper said. “We shared that information with the police department, and what we were able to determine is the person connected with that vehicle is a registered sex offender.”

However, Tupper said Campus Safety and the police do not know if the man who fled in the vehicle was the owner and registered sex offender.

According to Tupper, suspicious activity has been present at other Sioux Falls campuses as well.

“[The University of Sioux Falls] did respond to us that they had an incident on their campus, but I think theirs was a subject [who] had gotten into one of their residence halls,” Tupper said.

With several suspicious activities happening in the span of a few weeks, Tupper said the Augustana community needs to stay alert. Through the Augustana Alert system, he sent an email to students on April 13 informing them of the incidents and encouraging them to follow simple safety steps.

“We determined that there was sufficient information that we thought was important for the campus community to know that there’s some strange stuff going on,” Tupper said. “We just want you all to be aware, and everybody plays a part in keeping the community safe.”

As summer draws near, Tupper said it’s not uncommon for crime rates to increase.

“Once the weather gets warmer, we’ll see an uptick in window peeking,” Tupper said. “You see an uptick in other stuff like bike thefts, car burglaries. Bad guys don’t like to be out in 30 below either, so as soon as the weather gets nice, it’s easier for them to roam parking lots.”

According to Tupper, Campus Safety also found a male subject masturbating in a parking lot last month. After sharing this information with the Sioux Falls Police Department, Tupper said the same subject was found masturbating in another parking lot at 41st Street and Minnesota.

Campus housing has not been exempt from the strange activity either. Jenna Bump, the director of housing operations, said she received an email on April 13 from residents of a theme house who said a person knocked on their door asking for a tour.

“I just responded, ‘Hey, no. Anytime I would come over or need a tour or whatever, I will definitely email you. Do not let these folks in, and then if you see if they’re still around or something suspicious is happening, call Campus Safety right away,’” Bump said.

The culmination of suspicious activities and crimes in the Augustana neighborhood has some students looking to increase their home security.

Junior Kira Van Roekel said she and her roommates plan to invest in a door security bar, obtain new blinds and practice additional safety precautions.

Some of Van Roekel’s windows don’t have blinds or have blinds that won’t pull down. She said she and her roommates have placed maintenance requests for repairing the blinds, but they haven’t been fixed.

“Normally during the day we would just leave the back door unlocked because there’s five of us living there, so everyone’s coming and going,” Van Roekel said. “Now, it’s like anytime you leave, even if it’s just for a few minutes, lock the door. We don’t even open the front door anymore. We just keep that one locked all the time.”

Tupper said Campus Safety will do what they can to increase their presence in the neighborhood and will continue to employ a strategy of visible patrol cars and uniformed officers.

“We’re trying to create that level of security that if a bad guy’s going to come, they’re going to see something that maybe will tell him, ‘Don’t do anything here,’” Tupper said.

Additionally, Tupper said officers will file more field intelligence reports, which detail instances that are suspicious enough to warrant recording but fall below the significance of an incident report. If Campus Safety becomes aware of a similar incident, officers can then go look back at the field intelligence reports for possible connections.

With two to three officers out on patrol at any given time, Tupper said students can act as his “force multiplier.”

“If you see something, you should report it right away,” Tupper said. “Don’t wait. Report it right away.”

Bump also said the spring season acts as a reminder to be cautious and stay alert.

“It’s a good time to remember to lock your doors, lock your car, [and] kind of just keep your eyes out,” Bump said.