Public Safety (PS) has had their work cut out for them over the first two months of the semester. Following Labor Day weekend, Director of Public Safety, Christopher Santiago, states the first reports of harassment and voyeuristic activity came in. On Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2 reports came in of persons lurking outside the bathroom windows in Meadows. An accurate description for publication was not provided by reports. On Sept. 6, Santiago sent out the first community bulletin, advising the campus of this activity and reminding students to report any suspicious behavior via the LiveSafe app, Silent Witness form, or by phone. Santiago states, “the information we have provided to the community has resulted in receiving a significant amount of information to aid these investigations.”
After this bulletin, reports of activity stopped until Sept. 23, when a new set of reports were received. These reports were of a person looking through residence hall windows, but this time the descriptions varied and a few pictures of the suspects were provided. On Sept. 28, a second community bulletin was sent out with a description of the person. Santiago states that this description was formed as a result of reports. The bulletin described the suspect as a man in his 50s-60s with white hair, riding a bike. It was at this point that the Norton Police Department was informed of reports and their Problem Oriented Policing team, or POP team, helped PS with resources for investigating the incidents. This team, formed of Detective Jesse Winters and Nicholas Precourt, work closely with the Wheaton community through both PS and ResLife to solve problems, and avoid legal or criminal processes.
Over the course of the following weeks, PS has confiscated both a red and a white bike on campus after which reports have gone down. However, between Oct. 7 and Oct. 12, reports of a person lurking around Kilham and Everett halls were received. There was no discernable connection to the previous set of reports. These reports stated that the person was not only lurking around buildings but also holding up a phone to the windows as if filming or photographing. Because of this escalation into sexual behavior, Title IX actions came into play. This led to the third community bulletin being sent out on Oct. 22
While this new bulletin updated the description of the persons and gave safety tips on how to deal with such issues, behavior and reporting, it did not mention the interactions, trespass notices and arrests made by PS on campus. In the month of October, four individuals were stopped and questioned, three being non-campus members and one an alumna who had prior restrictions, was previously not allowed on campus and was provided with an official trespass warning, which was signed by both PS and the individual it applied to. Both PS and the Norton Police Department are made aware of this notice for future reference.
“Essentially, it is an official disinvitation from campus which, if violated, would lead to an arrest for trespassing,” Santiago clarified. Public Safety, as a representative of Wheaton College, has free reign to disinvite those on campus who are trespassing, those without a connection to campus as staff, faculty, or student. They have full rights to provide a trespass notice, to individuals who they feel may cause harm or distress to individuals on campus.
While two others were trespassing, only one of those stopped was arrested. When looking into it, PS found a previous trespass warning record. He was not arrested on campus, but rather charged in court and arrested by summons. After this arrest, there have been no more reports of harassing or voyeurism on campus.
“I think that from the beginning of the semester to now, we’ve seen improvement. The biggest issues are individuals who are reporting, but aren’t reporting in a timely fashion,” Santiago stated, in relation to reporting incidents on campus. “The ability of us to respond in the present increases our ability to be successful. It’s great that people are reporting on Monday, but if the event happened Friday night, we are at a disadvantage in attempting to be successful.”
Santiago notes that currently there are around 1,500 registered users on the LiveSafe app, utilized to create a safer environment for students. However, Santiago hopes these numbers will increase. When interviewed on Oct. 24, Santiago noted that in the previous 30 days, LiveSafe had been used for 35 tips, 45 “safe walks” which involve students sending their location to a friend, and 12 people utilized the emergency telephone function. The most common report selected on LiveSafe is the “other” category to report suspicious activity, second most used being the report of drug and alcohol.
Santiago hopes that more reports are not reported as anonymous, though he understands the want of anonymity and safety. When a reporting party gives their name and contact information, PS can contact them to make sure they are collecting accurate descriptions and information. He also hopes more reports will come in as an incident happens or directly after so that Public Safety’s response is timely and effective.
Especially in these cases, remembering to lock doors and windows when away and at night, and closing the window blinds is important to protect oneself. While the reports have dissipated, Santiago advises students and faculty alike to be careful, responsible, and help each other stay safe.