One day last fall, freshman public relations major Caitlyn Polhill went to her car to retrieve the tips she’d earned over the past few weeks as a waitress at Applebee’s. Upon arriving at her 2006 Ford Explorer, Polhill was upset to find her money was missing, along with her iPod. Three months later, her car, parked in the same lot, was broken into again.
Polhill is not the only Northern student to experience the shock of a vehicle break-in. Since the beginning of this semester, 23 cars have been reported as damaged and/or burglarized in campus parking lots.
According to Sgt. Ken Love of Public Safety, there are two main resources for patrolling the lots: Public Safety patrols and student guards. The Public Safety patrols are planned at different times throughout the night, and there are three to four student guards per night who walk through all parking lots on campus. Love said that students who see suspicious activity in the lots at any time of night should use the blue light phones to report them.
But other campuses have found an alternative way to monitor parking lots. Michigan Technological University has cameras in the student lots. According to Tech’s Public Safety department, the cameras have been helpful in investigations of car break-ins, and they are looking at upgrading the equipment. Tech has about 16 parking lots, a third of the lots that Northern has.
Students who experience these break-ins wonder why Northern doesn’t have similar technology.
“There’s really not much they can do without the proper equipment,” Polhill said. “They can do rounds all they want; it only takes 10 seconds for someone to bust into someone’s car and take something.”
Love said there is no plan to install cameras because it would be too expensive to install effective cameras. Love did not know the exact price of camera installation on NMU’s campus as he was unaware of any estimates given by surveillance companies.
Love also said the cameras may not be practical because they are unlikely to solve cases such as Polhill’s since only cameras with the best technology will be able to zoom. The zoom feature would allow Public Safety to see, in better detail, the crime as it is occurring. Even if the offenders were to drive their cars under the camera, the camera is likely only to see the type of car, not a license plate number or color, Love said.
“It would provide some of the information, but it certainly wouldn’t come close to solving every case,” said Love. “What (students) don’t realize is that this isn’t like the CSI shows they watch. There’s not a lot of evidence if the person smashes a window and takes your purse. If there is (any evidence), we’ll get it.”
Both times Polhill’s car was broken into it was parked in Lot 46, the freshman lot on Wright Street. The first time, on Oct. 24, 2008, items stolen were worth approximately $1,000, including $700 cash and an iPod. The second time, on Jan. 30 of this year, the driver’s side window was broken and a number of her belongings, including her work apron and a wallet without cash, were stolen. Though nothing of value was stolen, replacing the window cost Polhill about $500.
“How many times is this going to happen?” Polhill said. “How many times am I going to have to restart everything? I work hard for my money . I go to school full-time. I don’t have time for this crap.”
Polhill said she reported both incidents to Public Safety and that after each incident officers took pictures and collected fingerprints. After the second break-in, Public Safety questioned Polhill’s close friends and former boyfriends. They determined that no friends of hers had been involved in either break-in, and both cases were listed as closed.
Frustrated with the way the situation was handled, Polhill said she hoped to see change in the way Public Safety patrols the parking lots, saying that the installation of cameras would be a step in the right direction to fixing the problems of break-ins.
Amanda Deforke, a sophomore psychology major, has had her car broken into in Lot 46. Her car was one of six that were broken into on Feb. 7; the back window and driver’s side window were broken and her CDs and stereo were stolen. She said there was at least $600 in damages, including replacement of the two windows and the stereo.
After informing her of the break-in, Public Safety officers took pictures of her car and questioned her. She said she has not been contacted since.
“The thing is, I realize car damage isn’t horrific, and it does happen,” Deforke said. “But what if someone had been mugged (or) sexually assaulted . in that time? That would have been horrible. I feel like they should be on patrol at all times.”
Love said the best way to keep cars safe is to always lock them and remove valuables from sight. He said some people are too trusting while living in Marquette, and the best way to avoid having something stolen is to eliminate the temptation by removing anything of worth.