In the past several weeks, a series of theft-related crimes have afflicted the student body, fueling a perception of increasing crime rates at Vassar and in Poughkeepsie. Beginning with two burglaries of student residences last month, they have culminated with an armed robbery occuring on Joss Beach, which resulted in the arrest of the perpetrator.
First, on March 20 at around 8:30 p.m., one of the Town Houses (THs) was burglarized, per a Clery Alert email from Investigator Joseph Chorba. A second burglary, this time at an off-campus student residence on College Avenue, occurred on March 27 at around 5:45 p.m., per a similar email from Emergency Management Supervisor Gary Hulbert. Most recently, a student on Joss Beach was menaced with a knife and robbed on April 6 at around 1:20 p.m., per an email from Director of Safety and Security Arlene Sabo.
“The security and safety of everyone on campus is of the utmost priority for our department and I think it goes without saying that crime statistics at any level on campus are a concern,” said Sabo in a written correspondence. Speaking specifically on the Joss Beach robbery, Sabo added, “The events of last week are certainly of deep concern to us, and to our campus community. In response, we are working closely with the local police department, and immediately added extra patrols to supplement our routine patrols.”
Sabo confirmed that the individual responsible for this particular incident was apprehended by Town of Poughkeepsie police and also banned from entering Vassar’s campus in the future. “The person responsible was arrested, thanks to the timely notification by the student, good work by our Campus Safety officers, and a swift and thorough response by the Poughkeepsie Police Department. The community should also know that we immediately placed an official ban on this person from ever entering campus again.”
She emphasized, however, that crime rates in fact are lower this academic year than they were at this same time last year, saying, “Although it might seem otherwise, it is a misperception that there has been an uptick in burglaries on campus this calendar year. In fact, when looking at [the] previous calendar year’s statistics, there were three burglaries on campus during the same period last year vs. the one burglary YTD this calendar year.”
Nevertheless, Sabo clarified that armed incidents are especially uncommon, and this most recent one was the first since nationwide crime has increased in the wake of COVID-19. “Armed incidents have not been common on our campus. The last record of such an occurrence on our campus dates back to 2019. The incident last week has shaken many in our campus community and highlights the fact that Poughkeepsie is dealing with the same issues that many communities across the country are experiencing.”
Some students, particularly Joss residents, have expressed consternation following the Joss Beach robbery. “I have felt more unsafe since the knife incident, especially since I live in Joss and that’s right outside my building,” said Dominic Matos ’25, who lives in Joss.
Matos has been personally affected by larcenies on campus. “I know my scooter was stolen [Fall 2021], and I know more than one person who has had their bike or part of their bike stolen even if it was locked up. It wasn’t only that stuff was stolen, but it’s the fact that people are going to lengths. I don’t know which one is scarier, if it’s a random person on campus or a classmate at Vassar.”
Joss House Fellow Elliott Schreiber shared his thoughts since the Joss Beach incident. “Joss Beach is our front yard, not to mention a gathering space for the whole campus. So to have an armed robbery occur there is deeply unsettling. It is reassuring that Vassar Safety and Security will be adding extra patrols to this area.”
Ali Gormley ’22 expressed concerns about the TH burglaries. “I generally feel safe at Vassar, but I do get nervous reading the emails about crime incidents…Living in the THs, I’m more concerned about it than I was when I lived in the dorms, and I’ve definitely become more careful about locking my doors in the last few weeks.”
Safety and Security has taken a number of steps to alleviate the impact on the community and shield it from future incidents, according to Sabo. “This includes: heavy investment in increased/improved lighting, expanded card access, added cameras to perimeter areas, and diligence in sending out the federally mandated crime alerts with safety tips; educational meetings we’ve engaged in with various groups on campus; ever-improving on campus support systems and campus community involvement with enhancement of various social support systems/programs in our surrounding community, geared towards helping reduce the root causes of crime; partnerships with Residential Living and Wellness, Campus Activities, Student Growth and Engagement, along with various individuals and departments on campus.”
Regardless of these measures, Sabo stressed the importance of locking up rooms and personal belongings as the best way to thwart burglaries and larcenies. “In most of the on-campus burglaries unlocked doors or windows were access points for burglars, many of the bikes were unsecured or secured with cable locks only, and larcenies from vehicles were through unlocked doors. This is basic but it bears repeating: please help us reduce opportunity for burglaries and larcenies by locking up securely.”
Sabo added that students should feel free to reach out to her with their safety concerns at email@example.com. “New ideas, new partnerships are always of interest. We value the service role we hold at Vassar and very much enjoy opportunities to partner with others; it’s the most rewarding part of the work.”