Off-campus incident prompts student concern about Public Safety policy

By Grace Apostol and Sophie Foster

News Co-Editors

On Saturday, April 1, two students were present for an alleged incident which occurred at the 7-Eleven on Maple Avenue.

According to freshman Lillian Elgayar, she and freshman Klara Pecher went to 7-Eleven for slushies at 1:45 a.m. Because it was late at night, the freshmen were equipped with a legal pocketknife and a flashlight and shared their location with those close to them.

“We walked there with no problems, entered 7-Eleven, and I bought food,” Elgayar said. “Klara was getting a slushie with her back to the door…As Klara poured the slushie, young men tried to enter the store while putting their ski masks on.”

The store clerk, according to Elgayar, then told the men not to “even try it” and to “get out.”

Elgayar and Pecher tried not to draw attention to themselves, and, according to Elgayar, the men closed the door but continued to linger outside. Meanwhile, Elgayar and Pecher moved to the back of the store. It was too late for a SafeRide van to be called; the service ends at 1 a.m.

“The store clerk called the police, but I wanted to call Public Safety for us,”  Elgayar said. “I called and explained that we were near campus, but we did not feel safe and needed a safe ride home.”

According to Elgayar, the dispatcher informed them that PS officers do not offer escorts to students off campus.

“I tried to explain that we did not feel safe and that we could not get home if they did not pick us up,” Elgayar said. “As I explained this, the four men in ski masks tried to enter again.”

As this happened, the dispatcher went to inquire about whether or not an officer would be willing to pick Elgayar and Pecher up. According to Elgayar, she asked if she should request a police escort instead, and the dispatcher said that escorts are not the police’s responsibility, either.

Elgayar said that the store clerk eventually spoke to the dispatcher in an endeavor to convince PS to send an escort.

“He explained that we were not trying to take advantage and that we were scared for a justifiable reason,” Elgayar said. “Only after a man stood up for us did the [dispatcher] understand and send someone for us. We waited in the store and watched the four masked men roam outside trying to find a way in.”

Ultimately, a PS officer came to escort Elgayar and Pecher back to campus. According to Elgayar, the men dispersed when the vehicle arrived, and the clerk explained to the officer what transpired.

“The officer mentioned how the men were on our campus hours earlier,” Elgayar said. “He also mentioned that they had tried to rob Royal Farms…earlier.”

According to Elgayar, the PS officer struggled to unlock the vehicle, and was unsure of the location of their building of residence, which is across the street from the PS office.

“This…indicated to me that this officer was undertrained,” Elgayar said. “This situation is so much bigger than we are…After [a] number of recent school shootings, weak guns laws, and lack of regard for American women, you would think WC would at the very least drive less than two minutes for girls who felt unsafe. It should not have taken several minutes of convincing to get help.”

In response to these claims that PS officers were hesitant to drive to the 7-Eleven to pick up the students, Director of Public Safety Pam Hoffmann said that the officers responded in a short time.

“My staff did not hesitate to assist, and in a very short period of time had responded to the 7-Eleven to escort the students back to campus,” Hoffmann said.

According to Hoffmann, the response time, to the students, may have seemed slower due to the heightened situation.

“When a person is involved in a situation that places their emotions and responses in a heightened state, it is completely normal that actions and reactions appear to slow down for them,” Hoffmann said. “I can see how simple clarification questions being asked of a caller who is requesting help may appear to be challenging a request.”

The questions being asked of the involved students on the phone call on the night of April 1 were “simply to ensure that we understand the scope of the request, and the responses to those questions allow officers to respond appropriately and more quickly,” according to Hoffmann.

Hoffmann said that she understands the emotions of the students involved, though she says there was no attempted robbery reported for 7-Eleven.

“We have been in touch with the Chestertown Police Department, and while no attempted robbery was reported, it sounds clear that there was disorderly conduct that would have been troubling to witness,” Hoffmann said.

Regarding the bicycles reported stolen that same day, Hoffmann said that four were stolen the evening of April 1, with three being recovered. Investigations are still underway, however the stolen bicycles, according to Hoffmann, cannot be categorized as a robbery or burglary.

According to Hoffmann, the criteria needing to be met to define an incident as a robbery includes taking or attempting to steal a valuable item from someone forcibly or by scaring them. This also would possibly involve a weapon and the act of stealing or attempt thereof would be in front of the victim or victims.

Whereas, Hoffmann said that the criteria that needs to be met for an incident to be defined as a burglary, would be that a building would have to be entered “unlawfully” in order to commit the crime.

“So, while the bicycles were stolen, it is incorrect to refer to those incidents as either burglaries or robberies, and the incident at the 7-Eleven, while upsetting, did not qualify as an attempted robbery,” she said.

To Elgayar, however, this highlighted facets of PS policy that potentially detract from student safety.

“We were scared to share our experience out of fear of victim blaming,” Elgayar said. “Why were we not warned about the men robbing campus and local stores? It is completely unacceptable to feel unsafe within such a proximity of campus and to be so unconfident in our officers in emergencies.”

According to Elgayar, her experience demonstrated a need for improved communication and increased safety measures on and around the WC campus. The lack of timeliness in warning systems and “inadequate” response from PS personnel put the safety of students at risk, Elgayar feels.

Elgayar was alarmed by the fact that the men were presumably on campus earlier and attempted to do possible harm at the Royal Farms, yet no WAC Alert was sent.

“The response from PS when I called for help was unacceptable,” Elgayar said. “The fact that the girl on the phone did not seem to understand the urgency of the situation and took a long time to respond is severely worrying. It is not enough for PS to claim that escorting students is not their responsibility, especially when they are the ones responsible for ensuring the safety of the campus community. There needs to be a better protocol in place for handling such situations and providing assistance to students who feel unsafe.” 

According to Elgayar, the experience was traumatic, and there is a need for immediate improvements to campus safety. Elgayar wants the school to take this incident seriously and put measures in place to prevent similar issues in the future.

In order to make this a reality, Elgayar believes that PS should escort students within five miles of campus home when alerted of an emergency outside of SafeRide hours, WAC Alerts should be used more effectively, additional blue light towers should be implemented on campus, PS officers should be tested on their knowledge of campus layout, and self defense courses should be offered to students.

Updates regarding spring safety and PS policies were sent to the campus on Thurs., April 6 via email.

According to the email, PS is available for on-campus escort requests outside of SafeRide hours, and suspicious or unsuual behavior on campus should be reported to them. The email also urged students to carefully secure personal property, whether on or off campus.

PS can be contacted at all hours at 410-778-7810. SafeRide operates between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and can be contacted at 410-810-7433.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo Caption: An alleged incident involving two Washington College students took place at the 7-Eleven.

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