DUPD responds to robbery

In the wake of a weekend robbery in the Bryan Center, the Duke University Police Department has vowed to increase its presence on campus and is urging students, faculty and employees to be more aware of their surroundings.

A student reported that he was robbed near the ATM machines in the Bryan Center around 5:30 p.m. Nov. 30. According to the police report, the student had withdrawn $30 from an ATM when a man put a metallic object to the back of his head and demanded that he withdraw an additional $200. After the student complied, the man--described as a black male around 5'10" tall with a thin to medium build--grabbed the money and left the Bryan Center in the direction of the parking lot.

"The fact that this robber was apparently able to hang out in the Bryan Center and comfortably wait for a victim is simply unacceptable to me," said DUPD Chief Clarence Birkhead in a statement. "We're going to respond in an aggressive manner to combat repeat incidents."

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said Sunday's robbery was especially disturbing, given the high volume of traffic the Bryan Center sees on a daily basis. "I don't see this as a reason to panic, but I do see this as a reason to take some additional preventative measures. I'm very pleased that the police have decided to step up their patrol," she said.

The Bryan Center robbery comes on the heels of a string of armed robberies on campus, three of which occurred in November. A student reported an armed robbery on Central Campus near 1911 Erwin Road Nov. 24. A visitor said he was the victim of an attempted armed robbery on Towerview Road between Science Drive and Erwin Road Nov. 23. A Cinelli's Pizza delivery driver was robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot at Gilbert-Addoms Nov. 10.

In addition, a student reported an assault and armed robbery in the law school parking lot in early October. Duke police also recorded a rise in car break-ins, vandalism and solicitations by non-certified taxicabs in November.

The victim of the Bryan Center robbery approached The Chronicle on the condition of anonymity and described Sunday's incident and its aftermath.

"When it actually happened I was shocked, but it happened so quickly that there wasn't really much time to feel anything," the student said. "I calmly did what he asked me to and thank God I had the presence of mind not to freak out. The real damage comes not in the $230 I lost but in what happens afterwards, once I've sat down and realized that I was a muscle twitch away from being in a morgue somewhere.

"It's going to be a long time before I stop looking over my shoulder at an ATM or before I don't have to think twice about scheduling night labs.... I don't feel safe on campus, and I don't think I will until I see significantly increased security patrols on campus."

Lt. Davis Trimmer said the police department's increased presence on campus will be manifested through more frequent and more visible patrols across campus. He noted that heightened patrols might mean some officers have to work overtime, although the police department is not yet sure if such a step will be necessary.

Senior Alex Niejelow, Duke Student Government vice president for facilities and athletics, said students should use the recent robberies to reflect on the type of police service they expect from the University.

"There's definitely cause for students to be cautious about where they are and what they're doing and who's around them, but at the same time it's important that the Duke police department is able to provide protection to a student body and a campus that has proved increasingly vulnerable in the last month and a half," he said.

Niejelow noted that, since he matriculated to Duke in Fall 2000, DUPD has seen a number of incidents like the recent on-campus robberies. "There's been a routine in quotes from the police department that they're going to increase patrols after incidents like this, but then there always appears to be a return back to life-as-normal practices," he said. "I've heard complaints from students that police are there only when they're responding to an incident, but that they're rarely seen just walking through campus."

Niejelow, a reserve officer for the Durham Police Department, noted that increased patrols could be especially effective if the difference is seen in bike or pedestrian patrols, rather than vehicular patrols. This, he said, would let people know that there is a police presence that is both approachable and able to serve in a law enforcement capacity.

Trimmer noted that, after the Bryan Center robbery, DUPD will be doing more than just increasing patrols; they will also be taking a bolder approach to identifying individuals on campus and ensuring that only those who are supposed to be on campus are on campus, especially after dark.

He said DUPD is prepared to deal with a potential backlash from people who feel they have been stopped unnecessarily, as the department's primary concern is campus safety. Still, he noted that Duke police will be instructed in the proper way to stop people and will not be sent out to target specific populations. "It's not because of their race or what they're wearing or what they look like," Trimmer said.

Birkhead said students, employees and faculty can assist police by being cooperative, carrying their DukeCards at all times and reporting any suspicious activity. He also stressed that everyone needs to be continually aware of their surroundings and follow basic safety procedures--keeping doors locked, not leaving valuables unattended, traveling in groups and using campus transportation, Safe Rides and police escorts when necessary.

The victim of the Bryan Center robbery noted, however, that he had not placed himself in a situation he ever would have considered to be dangerous.

"It's not like I was oblivious to all this," he said. "I was aware there had been armed robberies and I knew I should be careful, but the audacity of the move really surprised me. There were people playing pool 50 feet from me."

Trimmer said that, although it is unusual to have three robberies in the course of a month, it is not unusual for criminal activity to step up around the holiday season. "The perception is that around the holidays people are out shopping, they have more money on them and they're not paying as much attention to what's going on. Especially in December, students are more focused on their studies or on winter break, and less on their personal safety," Trimmer said.

Duke police have possible leads on the Bryan Center robbery, but no arrests had been made by Monday afternoon. Trimmer said that although the suspect description from the Bryan Center robbery is "basically the same" as the description of one of the suspects from the Nov. 24 Central Campus robbery, there is not enough evidence to link the two crimes. Anyone with any information about the Bryan Center robbery is asked to contact Trimmer at (919) 684-4713.


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