WUPD increases off-campus presence following pattern of burglaries
The Washington University Police Department in recent weeks has increased its overnight presence in neighborhoods north and west of campus in response to a string of late-night and early-morning burglaries this fall at off-campus student apartments in non-University housing.
The increase is a “short-term” approach, WUPD interim chief Dave Goodwin told Student Life in an interview Tuesday. Goodwin said WUPD would maintain the expanded presence, which consists of additional officers assigned to “hotspot” areas in early morning hours, for an indefinite period of time.
WUPD sent out the first security memo regarding an off-campus burglary on Sept. 23 before sending additional ones on Sept. 25, Sept. 26 and Oct. 26 about other burglaries. On Nov. 17, the department sent out a crime alert, which is issued for an ongoing incident or trend involving public safety, Goodwin said, while security memos are meant for specific, isolated events that typically occurred off-campus.
“Over the past eight weeks, WUPD has learned of several burglaries in off-campus apartments rented by WashU students,” read the Nov. 17 alert, which came after burglaries in three apartments of the same building on Washington Avenue. “In almost all of these cases, access was initially gained through ground floor apartment windows or doors by standing on chairs or nearby objects. Most of the windows or doors were unlocked, including apartments on the upper levels of the buildings.”
Goodwin declined to say how many additional officers the increased presence entailed and was not sure how long the increase would last. “It really depends on if something else happens,” he said. “So far, it seems to have negated the situation, but you can never be 100% sure.”
Goodwin said WUPD officers typically do “hotspot patrols” in “areas that have been frequented” by crimes, meaning that every 15 to 20 minutes, an officer is driving through the area, passing out safety literature or otherwise “engaging the community.” The additional officers will strengthen that existing presence, Goodwin said. “While those other officers are driving around doing police stuff and handling other calls, those [additional] officers are specifically in those areas and not necessarily subject to call. They’re there specifically to just drive in those areas.”
In addition to those patrols, WUPD is partnering with the University City Police Department to conduct “collaborative patrols,” Goodwin said, adding that WUPD is also doing outreach to landlords and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. WUPD and UCPD will be assigned to work together during the peak times of criminal activity.
When asked about the benefits and consequences of the additional patrols, particularly in relation to communities of color, Goodwin focused on police presence as a deterrent. “Our job when we work with University City is presence — we want to be seen, number one,” he said. “With burglaries in particular that presence is very important; you hope to convey a sense of that community strength that is there.”
While 68% of white respondents to the public safety committee’s survey last fall reported feeling comfortable or very comfortable in their interactions with WUPD, 50% of Black respondents and 55% of Hispanic/Latino respondents reported that level of comfort.
When asked again about students of color potentially feeling unsafe with increased police presence, Goodwin said that “We approach our patrol in such a way to our fair and impartial policing, that really, our engagement is due to somebody’s actions. Not their appearance, not their clothing… It is clearly what they are doing that prompts the response, not anything else.”
Research has shown that implicit bias, the automatic associations people make between groups of people and stereotypes, has significant influence on the outcomes of interactions with citizens and police.
Students walking near the Ackert Walkway overpass to University City Wednesday afternoon expressed mixed reactions to the increased patrols.
“It definitely seems like a viable solution,” junior Jonny Chiu said. “I’m happy that the school is actually doing something about this.” Still, Chiu said he did not think the expanded police presence would completely stop crimes, adding that students should continue to make sure their windows and doors remained locked.
“I don’t know how effective it’s actually going to be, but I don’t know that WUPD increasing their patrols is necessarily a bad thing,” senior Patrick Doyle said. “It seems like a pretty standard response.”
Graduate student Francisco Tijerina was critical of the expanded patrols. “It’s a natural response to crime rising, but it’s not really addressing the issues from the root,” Tijerina said, adding that the University contributes to economic inequality in nearby neighborhoods that helps lead to crimes.
Tijerina said that he worried about the effects of increased patrols. “I think it provokes more discrimination against Black and other minority populations and a lot more reification of white, hegemonical power,” he said. “The response is insufficient to the problem and only provokes more social anxiety toward the populations that don’t feel safe around the police,” he said.
Orli Sheffey and Nina Giraldo contributed reporting.