MISHAWAKA- Bethel’s campus has seen an increase in reported incidents of theft compared to last year. Since Aug. 1, there have been 17 total theft reports, compared to 11 total theft reports this time last school year. Of the 17 reports for this year, 14 of them have been thefts from vehicles.
“One of the big things that we are finding with this is that in almost all of the cases, the vehicle is unlocked,” Director of Campus Safety Paul Neel, said.
There has been a rise in thievery in the surrounding communities as well, so students are encouraged to take precautionary measures when it comes to safety. What safety looks like for students has changed over time, especially with the move to a more open campus that took place a few years ago. At one point in Bethel’s history, there were gates at almost every road entrance into Bethel, with the exception of the main entrance by the Helm, that were closed and secured at curfew every night.
“Those were taken away a few years ago as part of the plan and for the overall aesthetics of campus, because a lot of that stuff was in bad repair and it was old fencing that just didn’t look well,” Neel said. “And we even had some stretches of fences that we took down; and part of that was . . . to have an open feeling campus that felt comfortable instead of having something that felt caged in.”
As of right now, there has been no discussion to return the gates to the road entrances leading into campus.
“Unless we were to put large amounts of fencing in different places, putting the gates up would do very little to help us,” Neel said. "It would have to be a certain type of fencing that for one, is expensive, and two, it would also then change the feel of the campus.”
In addition to remembering to lock their vehicle doors, another piece of advice students have been given is to park in areas that are lighted and that have cameras. However, many parking spots on campus sit in darkness, and finding a lighted space can be difficult. According to Neel, cameras, and lighting only help so much.
“Cameras and lighting help some, but if we were to map out the places where stuff has been stolen, some of it happens literally right under lampposts,” Neel said. “For the people who are doing these kinds of thefts, it’s really just about what they can get really fast with a quick opportunity.”
According to Campus Safety information, there isn’t a shortage of parking spots on campus, but the ones by the residential buildings can fill up quickly, which leaves students with fewer options than they would like. There are a total of 1,120 parking spots on campus. Some of the designations for those spots include 160 that are reserved for staff parking, 290 reserved for resident parking and 540 designated for general parking. General parking, where commuters are allowed to park, includes the big lot between Sufficient Grounds and the Wiekamp Athletic Gym, the parking lot by the soccer field, and about 2/3rds of the lot by Everest-Rohrer Chapel. After 5 p.m., commuters are allowed to park in designated staff parking areas.
“We encourage students, if they are getting back late and the lots are full and you have to park somewhere else, give us a call and we will meet you and give you a safe ride back to the dorms,” Neel said.
Neel said that his biggest piece of advice to students when it comes to general safety is situational awareness.
“Situational awareness is being aware of the world around you,” Neel said. “It is really easy to pop your earbuds in and look at your phone when you are running from place to place, but then when you do that, you’re not only not watching what’s going on, but with your earbuds in also, you can’t even hear what is going on . . . the awareness can also lead to just being able to be aware of something weird that is going on that you can report. Even if it is no big deal, we are still glad to check it out. Never be afraid to call campus safety.”
If you need to reach campus safety for any reason, you can call the Campus Safety mainline at (574) 807-7500. Or you can call or text the Campus Safety cell phone at (574) 292-8100.