Holiday Break-Ins Under Investigation: Public Safety, Police, and FBI Collaborate

By Maegan Clearwood
News Editor

Washington College campus was not as quiet as usual this winter break. A series of thefts in various residence halls led to a collaborative, ongoing investigation by Public Safety and the Chestertown Police Department.

According to Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick, an on-duty PS officer noticed a number of items on the ground outside a dorm room window at 7 a.m. on Dec. 24., indicating a break-in. Later, after the officer started documentation on the occurrence, other potential crime scenes were discovered around campus, and the CPD joined the investigation.

Once a preliminary list of incidents was made, victimized residents were contacted. According to Roderick, 22 rooms were broken into, most of which were in Western Shore dorms. All of the thefts were in first-floor rooms, and it appears as though entry was made through the windows.

After PS and the CPD had strong documentation, they started looking for video footage of the thefts.

Once they pinpointed the time the crime was committed, they captured images of the criminals.

“The individuals who committed this crime I believe had a fairly good knowledge of where our cameras are located and a fairly good idea of when we’re most vulnerable,” Roderick said. “It seemed to be a pretty thought-out strike.”

At present, PS is communicating daily with the CPD as the investigation continues. The Maryland State Police Crime Lab is examining the physical evidence, and the video footage has been sent to an
FBI lab to enhance images of the individuals.

“We pretty much identified the [suspects] because we deal with them all the time,” said Chestertown Chief of Police Robert Edler. “We want to clear them up for court purposes. We don’t want to take any chances.”

Although it may take some time to clear up the images and process physical evidence, the investigation is heading in the right direction.

“It becomes a record-keeping task of making sure that we have everything catalogued appropriately, all of the inventories are correct, all of the amounts are correct, all of the victims’ information is correct, so when we get to the next stage of the investigation of filing charges we are able to quickly go back and reference those and see that we have the proper charges placed against the individuals,” Roderick said. “That’s just the beginning of another long process.”
Roderick said that “it is difficult to know” when charges will be filed, because it depends on when the evidence and footage can be processed.

Liam Dempsey’s room in Queen Anne’s was one of those robbed. He was alerted of the situation over winter break, and came back to campus to find his Bose stereo system and wireless router stolen. For Dempsey, the incident has raised concerns about security over breaks.

“I feel like PS is more concerned with lock-outs and parties, as opposed to being public safety,” Dempsey said. “The name’s not an accurate reflection of what they do.”

According to Roderick, PS is re-examining holiday safety and security precautions.

“Whenever you get an opportunity to go back and review these things, we look at what our vulnerable points are and evaluate what the best way is to address those,” he said. “We found some vulnerable points on the perimeters of some of our building that weren’t in easy view of patrol or cameras, so we’ll take a look at that. We’ll take a look at some of the lighting around those areas, maybe enhance some camera coverage in those areas.”

Dempsey thinks that improvements in terms of officer workload should be made.

“One of the PS officers said that they can only have one guy on duty during specific times,” he said.

“That seems unfair. They can’t really do their job with one person. It’s a relatively small campus, but it’s still a big job for one person.”

Although PS is re-evaluating security, Roderick said there are many ways for students to protect their property over breaks. Aside from locking windows and doors and taking valuables home with them, there are insurance options available in case of property damage or theft.

“The college doesn’t carry insurance for students’ belongings, and when these things occur, it’s very unfortunate, but the college doesn’t insure them, so students should be looking at that,” he said.

“Theft is not the number one cause for loss of property. There’s any number of reasons you want to protect your belongings.”

Edler also emphasized the importance of property protection.

“With the economy it is right now, we’re seeing an increase of property crimes,” he said. “It’s just a bad time right now.”

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