Theft, suspicious activity spike on campus

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In previous weeks at the College of William and Mary, College officials, the William and Mary Police Department and individuals in Facebook groups have announced an increase in theft and suspicion of potential human trafficking on campus. Although claims of trafficking were not valid, this incident, alongside more frequent instances of theft, contribute to ongoing security concerns at the College.  

WMPD has received several reports of burglaries in residence halls, some of which they are still investigating. Increased theft across campus is affecting more than just undergraduates. 

In response to these incidences, the WMPD has increased police patrols in residence halls across campus and assigned additional staff members to work on any currently outstanding or future theft cases.  

Police have also been collaborating with Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Director of Residence Life Maggie Evans to reinforce and improve the College community’s long- and short-term safety practices. This included a recent meeting between Evans, Chief of Police Deborah Cheesebro and representatives from the Residence Hall Council to review residence hall security measures and respond to student concerns.  

Although the WMPD is working hard to maintain safety across campus, College spokesperson Suzanne Clavet advised that students can support their efforts by taking initiative and responsibility for their own safety.

“To be proactive, students can certainly be sure to lock their individual rooms and to make sure that when they swipe into the main doors, that only they enter the residence hall,” Clavet said in an email. “And certainly if anyone observes anything unusual, they should report it immediately to WMPD.”  

“To be proactive, students can certainly be sure to lock their individual rooms and to make sure that when they swipe into the main doors, that only they enter the residence hall,” Clavet said in an email. “And certainly if anyone observes anything unusual, they should report it immediately to WMPD.” 

Cheesebro echoed these sentiments, encouraging students to take an active role in promoting a safe campus environment by contacting the WMPD directly. 

“It is critically important for the community to work together in preventing and solving these types of thefts,” Cheesebro said in a statement.  

According to Class of 2021 President Aria Austin ’21, the College’s Student Assembly has been made aware of these issues and is doing their best to assist the WMPD in any way possible to ensure campus-wide safety.  

Although uncertain of what may be motivating this recent increase in crime, Austin encouraged students to be proactive regarding the security of both themselves and their belongings.  

“I couldn’t tell you why there has been an increase in reports of theft on campus, but I think it is very important for us as students to be mindful of our actions regarding our property,” Austin said. “Lock your door when you leave your room. Make sure you lock your bike. Never leave your belongings alone in a common area. It may be tedious, but it is necessary.” 

In addition to reports of increased theft, rumors of a potential trafficking incident have recently ruminated around campus. Early last week, several members of the College’s community called the WMPD with reports of suspicious behavior regarding the presence of three females on campus, all of whom were unaffiliated with the College. These women reportedly approached students to inform them about their religious group and persuade them to join by promoting their female-centric interpretation of the Bible.   

Several students found these women’s presence on campus and their encounters with them suspiciously reminiscent of behaviors tied to human trafficking group tactics. Following an investigation, WMPD found that the event was not tied to human trafficking efforts. There have been several allegations across the United States of women approaching lone females, encouraging them to join their “God the Mother” Bible studies to lure them into a sex trafficking scheme. Concerned students posted in the “Overheard at William and Mary II: Electric Boogaloo” Facebook group warning other students on campus about the women.  

Sabina Valery ’20 was approached by two of these women while walking near the Integrated Science Center on her way to Lake Matoaka. Although nonreligious, Valery listened to the women’s promotion of their Bible study group, which they claimed featured unique Christian interpretations of what the bible “actually” says, specifically referencing the ‘God is the Mother’ passage. Valery left after politely rejecting their offer to join their Bible study.  

“I guess they were supposed to prove they were different from Christian groups,” Valery said. “They were like ‘do you think this would be something that would be interesting to you’ and I was like, ‘No, I’m sorry’ and then I just left because that was a weird five minutes of my life that I just, I didn’t really need.”   

Although she found the encounter odd, Valery did not feel uncomfortable during her interaction with the two women.  

“They were really earnest about the message they were sharing, so I felt bad interrupting her,” Valery said. “I just let her say her piece because she seemed really convinced about the whole thing, but it was just weird.” 

After investigating these reports, the WMPD identified the women and confirmed that they were affiliated with a legitimate church group and demonstrated no relation to human trafficking schemes.  

“Our officers did an excellent job of identifying these individuals and conducting extensive research into their motives,” Cheesebro said in a statement. “Again, there is no nexus to human trafficking. They are interested in recruiting for their church. Students can feel comfortable making individual choices about whether they want to engage in contact with them or not, without fear of safety concerns.”

“Our officers did an excellent job of identifying these individuals and conducting extensive research into their motives,” Cheesebro said in a statement. “Again, there is no nexus to human trafficking. They are interested in recruiting for their church. Students can feel comfortable making individual choices about whether they want to engage in contact with them or not, without fear of safety concerns.” 

Upon hearing of this issue, SA also approached WMPD, which assured them that that the campus was safe in response to these trafficking claims. Austin was understanding of students’ concern and emphasized that although in this instance there was no danger, there will often be persons unaffiliated with the College on campus and it is important for students to come forward and report any situation in which they feel uncomfortable or in danger.  

“It is essential for students to raise their voices when they feel unsafe and I’m really glad that they did,” Austin said. “Raising your voice lets us as student body representatives know what issues need answers and how to best serve our constituents. That is what we are here for and aim to do every day.” 

Correction: 11/22/19- Change from “Facebook groups have announced theft increase and suspicion of human trafficking on campus. Although claims of trafficking resulted in no viable threat, this incident, alongside more frequent instances of theft, contribute to ongoing security concerns at the College.” to “In previous weeks at the College of William and Mary, College officials, the William and Mary Police Department and individuals in Facebook groups have announced an increase in theft and suspicion of potential human trafficking on campus. Although claims of trafficking were not valid, this incident, alongside more frequent instances of theft, contribute to ongoing security concerns at the College.”