Police take extra precautions after armed robberies, break-ins

Campus and local police officials said they are stepping up patrols to ensure student safety since the recent armed robberies and break-ins on and near the university have taken place.

UNA police Chief Bob Pastula said he suspects it may be a sign of the economic times as to why three armed robberies have occurred on campus just this year. In 2010, two armed robberies involving students at or near UNA also took place.

“A lot of people are unemployed, and that’s an easy way for them to come up with the money they need without earning it,” he said. “People resort to desperate measures when they don’t have the means for earning money.”

UNA police are still searching for a suspect involved in an armed robbery on campus March 21. Pastula said the suspect is a white male in his earlyto mid 20s who was last seen wearing black shorts.

The armed robbery occurred when the suspect approached a female UNA student as she was walking toward the parking garage, according to police reports. The suspect forced himself into the victim’s car, made her drive to the ATM machine by Rice and Rivers halls and withdraw approximately $500 before returning to the parking garage where he escaped.

Pastula said his department has images of the suspect that were taken with the ATM camera. Investigators are also following leads and interviewing the victim to track down the suspect.

David Shields, vice president of student affairs, administers UNA’s Lion Alert notification system, which provided students with updates of the armed robbery before spring break.

Shields said approximately 40 to 50 percent of the UNA community has signed up for Lion Alert to receive notifications of campus emergencies.

“The chief and I are looking at ways to keep people up to date and looking at ways to keep people informed,” he said.

Florence police are also investigating three home invasion burglaries that have occurred during the last two months where two of the victims were female UNA students living near the university, said Chief Rick Singleton.

Singleton said they are searching for a slender white male who breaks in during the nighttime hours to attack women living in the residences. So far, the reports that have been filed involve women who were able to scare the attacker off, he said.

When a serious emergency occurs on or off campus, Singleton said students should call 911 immediately.

“The sooner we get that call, the more likely we are that we will catch them,” he said.

Officials said the UNA police department is taking several steps to improve patrols and safety on campus, including the relocation to a new police office in Keller Hall, the implementation of a communications center and through the approval of funding for a 24/7 dispatch center on campus.

Shields said they are looking into purchasing active security cameras with a possible outdoor speaker system to be distributed throughout the campus.

Shields said it’s important for the entire UNA community to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity instead of relying solely on the police department.

“The university is not a walled city,” Shields said. “(Students) have to remember UNA is a microcosm of the larger city and society and we have to be as diligent about our security and safety as we are in our homes.”

Pastula said he has alerted his officers to pay more attention to the parking garage and other desolate areas on campus to prevent future crimes.

He also has added two additional patrol officers to the night shift in response to the recent armed robberies on campus.