Brittany LaBossier, a human rights major and senior at SMU, was sitting at home comfortably one recent evening when her golden retriever started barking aggressively at the back door. He is normally a barker, but had never before been this aggressive. Alarmed, LaBossier stood up and saw the doorknob jiggling as if somebody was trying to enter.
“I thought it was strange so I just peeked out the peep hole thinking that it may have been someone who was friends with the neighbors downstairs but to my surprise there was a strange man standing there with a hat on,” LaBossier said, who by this time was frightened enough that she immediately called 911.
University Park police officers arrived within four minutes to find that the man in the hat had apparently left the premises of the apartment, but LaBossier and her two roommates were still shaken.
This was not the first attempted break-in at LaBossier’s apartment. She and her roommates came home after SMU’s winter break in January 2015 to a broken, almost kicked-in, door. Somebody had tried to break in to the vacant apartment while they were out of town.
Kaley El-Arab, one of LaBossier’s roommates this year, said that they now take extra precaution because of the scary events they have experienced.
“Now we always make sure our doors are dead bolted, especially before we go to bed or leave for breaks,” the chemistry and mathematics major said.
This is the time of year to be particularly vigilant, all the way through the holidays and SMU’s winter break.
“Crimes such as robberies, burglaries, and thefts typically increase slightly during the holiday season,” said Lieutenant Bernie Trujillo of the SMU Police Department.
Between the months of November and February, burglary and theft becomes much easier for criminals. The weather gets colder, the sun sets earlier and people get busier shopping and running errands or leaving town on vacation.
“The holiday season is always a special time of year,” said Lieutenant Trujillo in a statement released to students about holiday safety. “It is also a time when busy people become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crime. We can never be too careful, too prepared or too aware,” the SMUPD lieutenant warned.
The SMU Police Department also put together a list of tips for staying safe at this time of the year that they sent in an email to students. The list included over a dozen tips for keeping safe on campus, in cars and in apartments surrounding campus, some of which are listed below.
- Travel in groups and avoid going out alone at night
- Avoid wearing headsets/headphones that impair your ability to detect and respond to potentially dangerous situations.
- Know where the emergency call boxes are located on campus.
- Be sure to locate your keys prior to going to your car
- When approaching or leaving your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.
- Never leave valuables in plain view, transfer them to the trunk before you reach your destination.
- If you live off campus, remember to lock your windows.
As SMU students have access to an entire city, safety concerns are not just confined to campus and their apartments. Between shopping centers, bars and restaurants, there are many places to stay aware of the possibility of theft.
One popular location students frequent around the holidays is NorthPark Center, where they have heightened security over the winter months due to parking lot thefts.
The Dallas Police Department sets up a watchtower in the parking lot facing Park Lane throughout their busy holiday season so that they have an aerial view of the large space. This is to help protect busy and unaware shoppers from pick-pocketing, car theft or assault.
“I hadn’t even thought of that before,” said SMU junior and education major Sarah Mosso. “I guess I always kind of look around to see who is watching me when I get into my car in big parking lots like that, but it is good to know somebody else is too” she said.
Car theft becomes one of the most common crimes in the Highland Park area during the winter months, according to data from www.CrimeReports.com, but parking lots are the only place these thefts occur.
Tess Wohrle, a senior marketing major, was standing on the balcony of an apartment on Normandy Avenue one night last November when she witnessed two men break into her friends car parked on the street.
“The alarm started blaring and my friend started chasing the two burglars down the street. We called the police and they arrived 10 minutes later, but the two men ended up taking the stereo out of the car,” Wohrle said.
Even when locked, cars parked on the street are never safe from burglars, as thieves are looking to steal stereos and seats from the car as well. According to a report on the University Park website, theft of the third-row seats of cars has been an issue in recent months, as thieves are looking to sell the items on eBay.
Just as Wohrle and LaBossier did in the frightening incidents they both encountered and witnessed, the SMU Police Department urges students to report any suspicious activity immediately.
“You can assist us in maintaining a safe campus environment…If you see something, say something,” SMUPD wrote in their email.
To report any suspicious activity on campus, call SMUPD at 214-768-3333.