After a string of robberies and attempted robberies on campus this past week, the UH Department of Public Safety has stepped up its efforts to protect students. However, the department declined to comment very extensively on what they will do in the upcoming semester in response.
On Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, three students were held up at gunpoint. The first two students were robbed in broad daylight, while the last student was held up in the evening but did not have any valuable possessions on his person at the time of the incident.
“(The connectedness) will have not been determined because the officer is still working on the report,” said Lt. Dina Gonzales of the UHDPS and on-duty public information officer, last week before the third incident.
“Once our investigation compares the two, they’ll be able to make the determination whether or not the two are connected. They’re following-up on the previous report, the previous case, and they’ll also be doing the same with this (one).”
UHDPS was not available to comment further over the weekend because of administrative hindrances.
UHDPS must clear all statements with the Department of Media Relations before their release to the public. As of Saturday, no new developments have been made, said Executive Director of Media Relations Richard Bonnin.
However, UH as a whole has not remained silent. President Renu Khator sent an email to students Friday addressing the safety concerns many students and parents have had.
“The University of Houston Department of Public Safety, under the leadership of Chief Ceasar Moore, has today (Sept. 21) established a dedicated task force whose focus for the next 30 days will be investigating and solving the armed robberies that took place this week,” Khator said in the email.
“This team will follow up on the solid investigative work already under way by investigators within the department who have been diligently pursuing all leads.”
Khator stated in her email that many parents and students have emailed her with concerns. Avery Rabon, vocal performance freshman, is one of the students with concern about the recent incidents.
“I was slightly shocked, just because you don’t expect so many thefts to happen in such a short period of time,” Rabon said in an email.
More seasoned students like Elliot Kudisch, a political science and Spanish junior, were not as surprised by the events, but still felt that something more needs to be done.
“(I was) surprised, but not shocked. I was in Bayou Oaks at the time of the most recent attempted theft,” Kudisch said in an email.
“I most definitely will be more alert to suspicious behavior, but at the same time, UHDPS needs to understand that parking a vehicle at the furthest corner of a parking lot with your lights off is not protecting anyone. There needs to be more done to ensure the safety of the students and faculty.”
Elementary education junior Ashley Nwokedi agrees with Kudisch in the sentiment that the placement of the campus itself may not be the most ideal.
“We are in the third ward, but I am still a little more cautious of what time of day it is and what area I am in. I know that around Bayou Oaks, when it gets a little later, something might happen,” Nwokedi said.
“I feel that last year, the crime was more spread out. This year it seems like they are back to back to back, just every day. I hope that the UH Police Department can do something about crime and keep students safer.”
The task force Khator mentioned would not be the only improvement coming to campus. The increased number of officers on patrol is also hoped to help stem the tide of robberies.
“Along with this action, UHDPS will be hiring a full-time crime prevention officer who will be stationed in the M.D. Anderson Library and be accessible to faculty, staff and students,” Khator said in the email.
“Five new supervisors and five new patrol officers were added to the UHDPS force this week, with a goal toward being a better, stronger and faster police department.”
“UHDPS also will be increasing and adjusting its patrol shifts to better safeguard parking lots and areas on the perimeter of campus, where these incidents took place. Communication and coordination with personnel who staff observation kiosks in campus parking lots also will be improved,” Khator said.
“As a student, I would feel much more comfortable seeing new cameras placed at all parking lots, cross walks, side walks and bus stops, with signs reading, ‘Smile! You’re on camera.’ That would probably be costlier, but in my eyes, more effective,” Kudisch said.
However, students may not be completely satisfied with these measures.
“In my visits to other college campuses, I have noticed that in relation to ours, their campuses are well lit at night. At UH, most of the exterior parking lots are dark and present prime setting to commit crime. If the University were to invest in new lights for the campus extremities, it would pay dividends for students taking night classes or studying late on campus,” Kudisch said.
Khator made sure to point out that students and employees at the University are the most important barrier to keeping themselves safe.
“You can play an important role in taking care of yourself and of each other. I urge faculty, staff and students to verify and update your emergency contact information in PeopleSoft to ensure that you receive all important security alerts,” Khator said.
“We are especially interested in having cell phone numbers on file, since this allows text messaging, the most effective way for immediate communication when it is required.”
“I will always not walk alone on campus if I can help it, because that helps avoid those situations,” Rabon said.
Additional reporting by Amanda Hilow.