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Campus auto thefts continue to increase

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
A car sits alone on the third floor of the Sixth Street garage last night. In order to reduce the number of break-ins and car thefts, UAPD recommends parking in well-lit and well-traveled areas.
By Ty Young
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday September 8, 2003

When biology senior Erika Sisk parked her car in the Tyndall Garage during the first week of school, she was worried about the nearby Lincoln Continental backing into her vehicle.

The last thing on her mind was coming back to an empty parking space, especially after she had taken the standard precautions to ensure that it was safe.

Yet, that is how she concluded her first week of school, her gold 1994 Saturn gone without a trace in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

"My heart dropped and I just knew right at that instant that it was not there," she said. "I've parked in the Tyndall Garage so many times before that I felt safe leaving my car there."

While this is not the first time that her car has been broken into, it was the first time that it has happened on campus.

Last year, UAPD reported 63 auto thefts in the campus area and 65 the year before. While on the surface this represents a small decrease, the number of car thefts have risen dramatically when compared to 1999 and 2000, when there were 37 and 45 car thefts, respectively.

Although those statistics encompass the surrounding campus area as well as the parking garages, UAPD warns that cars parked in garages provide an easy target for thieves.

"Criminals look for areas where they are undetectable, and they can get away with doing their crime," UAPD spokesman Sgt. Eugene Mejia said. "They're going to look for an area that is isolated, an area that does not have a lot of people coming or going. They choose those areas because they don't want to be caught and they don't want to be seen."

With a rising student population and an increase in student drivers, Parking and Transportation Services has tried to accommodate safety in the garages at all costs, said PTS Director Patrick Kass.

Much of the work behind the safety measures often goes unnoticed to people who use the garages.

"We try to make the design as open as possible," he said. "We try to eliminate any hidden corners and dark spots in the garage where people can hide."

Along with 24-hour lighting and emergency telephones on every garage floor, PTS now has two employees who patrol the garages at night. These Parking Control Officers work between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

UAPD drives by, and sometimes within, the garages every hour.

An attempted sexual assault last year in the Park Street Garage, 1140 N. Park Ave., underscored the need for greater security in the garages.

The attempted assault occurred in April 2002 when a man approached a female student and attempted to push her in to her car. She was able to fight him off and he fled the scene.

The student has since sued both the UA and UAPD for lack of protection.

You can't weigh cost against safety. But it's hard to be everywhere in the garage.
Mike Delehanty
PTS operations manager

In the wake of the attempted assault , PTS has been exploring new ways to meld technology and student safety, said PTS Operations Manager Mike Delehanty. One of the ideas discussed for some time is video cameras in the garages.

While there are cameras in the garages, they do not record the activity in the garage, only sending live feedback to the attendant. In addition, the camera only covers the entrances and exits. The camera provides a live feed to the parking attendant within the garage.

The lack of a recording device has caused aggravation for Sisk and her family.

"My mother said ╬You don't pay $24,000 a year to go to that school (for them to) tell me that they can't afford to record on the cameras,'" Sisk said. "Knowing that the cameras aren't taping really upsets me."

Delehanty said that he understands the frustration, but PTS officials are working to best serve the students while keeping measures under a tight budget.

"You can't weigh cost against safety," he said. "But it's hard to be everywhere in the garage."

Delehanty said that 24-hour taping devises may be necessary, but few understand the logistics of the matter. With thousands of cars within the garages, camera usage becomes problematic.

The main issue for PTS, Delehanty said, is effective use of the cameras given the vast amount of space within the garages.

"In order to do it effectively, every inch of that garage needs to be covered," he said. "You'd have to have a camera between every car."

People who use the garages can also play a role in creating a safe atmosphere by reporting crimes.

"We rely heavily on the student population and the employees to report activities of that type so that we can take action," Mejia said. "If they fail to call, they may have failed to prevent an attack or theft."

In order to prevent assaults in the garages, PTS and UAPD both stress that people need to stay in well-lit and well-traveled areas. Criminals try to be as inconspicuous as possible, Mejia said.

But regardless of how much precaution is taken, there are some instances that cannot be prevented. Sisk said that she locked her doors, parked in the most open of areas and made sure that her valuables were out of plain sight.

Even after all this, there are no guarantees that a car will be there after it is parked.

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