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A History of Crime at University of Richmond

By: Kay Dervishi, Managing Editor

On April 12, 1981, at 1:30 a.m, the University of Richmond Police received a call. “I think you’d better come,” a student said. “There’s somebody screaming.” The caller had heard the screams coming from Modular 10, a cluster of mobile homes on Boatwright Drive that served as temporary campus housing at the time. A crowd of at least 10 students hoarded outside the window of the building and the student later told the Richmond Times-Dispatch it seemed that the crowd was enjoying what was going on.

The campus police arrived, slowly driving by but never leaving their vehicle. It wasn’t until they received a second call directing them back to the scene that they stopped and a male student asked them to talk to the 14-year-old girl standing on the grass outside. Joe Williams, then a freshman football player who had left the party earlier, wrote in a Collegian op-ed a decade later that she was found half-clothed and sobbing.

She told them she was a Westhampton College student who lived in Gray Court, then-UR Police Chief Robert C. Dillard told The Collegian, but had no student identification and said she did not need help. She did not tell officers she was raped until later that morning when Dillard and another officer interviewed her.

Two days after the party, three freshmen UR football players, Mark James Panciera, Gary Joseph Ribar and Christopher Charles Byrne were charged with rape of a minor and Byrne was also charged with sodomy.

The accused students ended up not being prosecuted, according to a later Collegian article, because the 14-year-old runaway had not shown up to court a month after the alleged rape. But the three accused students left the school and with it, a story many students have since forgotten about.

UR’s campus has little crime, aside from underage drinking and exit signs being knocked down by rowdy students. Violent non-sexual crimes are mostly nonexistent on campus — from 2015 to 2017 only two cases of aggravated assault, three cases of arson and two weapons law violations were reported, according to the University’s 2018 Annual Security Report. The violent crime that occurs most often on campus is rape, which has been reported 42 times from 2015 to 2017, and dating violence, which has been reported 19 times over the same time frame.

The perception of living on a safe campus can be rattled by moments such as the armed robbery at UFA 470 that happened the weekend of move-in day this semester. A man from off-campus flashed what seemed to be a handgun in his waistband to a student he arranged a drug deal with, stole her drugs and left, according to a Collegian article from August. The current University of Richmond Police Chief Dave McCoy said he had never seen such a case in his seven years on campus. And just two years ago, many students were also rattled by the accounts of sexual assault by two UR students who also criticized the university for mishandling their cases.

Forum Magazine decided to dive into the history of crime at UR and highlighting some of the most interesting, bizarre and frightening cases that have been reported on campus.

The year was 1969 and students and faculty at UR joined the rest of the nation in calling for a moratorium on the Vietnam war. They stopped in-between classes for a vigil, where they read off the names of Virginians who had died in the war, switching off as students left and came and tied strips of black cloth to their arms.

Though this protest had a peaceful ending, colleges had increasingly become politically tense and occasionally violent. At Kent State University a year later, members of the Ohio National Guard shot at protesting college students, killing four and wounding nine others.Colleges throughout the United States had decided to start their own police departments in response to these protests, according to the Guardian. UR was no exception; in 1970, it hired Dillard to direct the school’s security forces, and a year later the school completed paperwork to have police officers recognized on campus. “The commitment needed to convert from a security agency to a police department is pretty significant,” McCoy said. “Your standards change dramatically, your costs change dramatically, from training, maintaining, outfitting. You know, police carry guns and badges and they have to be properly trained annually for that.”

The police department replaced a group of seven security guards that used one shared patrol car. According to the Winter 1971 Alumni Bulletin, Dillard said the security guards were “elderly men hired to walk around the buildings and give parking tickets.” The university allowed the ten newly hired officers to carry weapons: a .38 caliber pistol and a 12-inch nightstick that could spray tear gas, which Dillard said could possibly be more dangerous than a gun.

Students were not entirely sympathetic to the changes. The Richmond College Student President at the time, Woody Traylor said in a Collegian article, “We’re afraid human error might cause something to occur that shouldn’t. We haven’t done anything in the past that would necessitate anyone being killed on this campus.” Dillard justified arming police in 1971 during a talk with students, citing cases that year such as a cleaning woman being forcibly taken off-campus at gunpoint, an armed robbery at Westhampton and several break-ins by outsiders. These cases were not found in the Collegian archives. Campus police are still armed, though no longer with night sticks.

The academic year 1970 to 1971 did not start quietly for Dillard. Three hoax bomb threats over the course of ten days disrupted studies at the business school, then known as the School of Business Administration. Five days later, an arsonist attempted to light the ROTC building on fire with two plastic bottles full of gasoline but failed to do so.

But a successful building attack finally happened in January 1971, when a homemade bomb exploded in a trashcan in Jeter Hall. The explosion broke 56 windows and caused $283.10 in damages, which amounts to $1,839.76 in 2018 when adjusted for inflation. The police ended up arresting three college students who didn’t attend UR and a high schooler for the bombing. And to top everything off, Lakeside Dorm, which is now called Marsh Hall, received its own bomb threat in March 1971 that Dillard suspected to be a prank.

The second half of the 1970s also saw one UR student who kept shooting BB gun pellets at students walking between Thomas Hall and the library in 1977 until caught by police. And then about a week later, police confiscated a second pellet gun he had not turned over during the initial confrontation and not long after he was put on probation. To make matters even more absurd, a second Thomas Hall BB gun carrier was discovered in 1991 after shooting a hole through the window near the main entrance. Although the university has several titillating stories in its past, most crimes on campus have been theft and vandalism. According to a 1991 Collegian article, 80 percent of reported crimes were of larcenies while violent crime amounted to only two percent.

Much of the theft in the past seemed to come from people coming in from off-campus to steal everything from TVs to bicycles. In 1976, 70 percent of those arrested on campus during the first part of the fiscal year were not students, The Collegian reported. Outsiders were also suspected to cause an increase in theft in 1988, because the thieves stole several items using bolt cutters.

Nowadays, most crimes on campus are self-generated, McCoy said.

“Well your low-level stuff, your crimes of disorder, your vandalism, stuff like that, that’s clearly all campus-related activities.,” McCoy said. “Some burglaries, a lot of larcenies, could be on-campus, could be off-campus. You know, we have a tendency to be lax, we’ll leave things of value laying around in open areas that are accessible to the public.” Security in residence halls looked different decades ago because, before card swipes were installed, they were open to the public. The idea of having students swipe into residence halls was not considered until the late 1980s and all residence halls were not equipped with card swipe entry until 1996. Before then, students were responsible for locking the doors to their rooms with a key, but otherwise it was easier for non-students to wander the halls of dormitories.

A 30-year-old man walked into Marsh Hall in 1984, for example, put his clothes in the dorm’s washing machine and wandered the halls brandishing a 4.5-inch-long knife. In 1989, a 35-year-old man was charged with trespassing and peeping into dorms after Keller Hall residents reported a man peeking at them through the sides of the shower and walking into a student’s open room.

In one especially graphic case, a former UR custodian was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with eight years suspended, in April 1988 for breaking into the dorm rooms of three female students in September and December the year before. One of the victims, who was visiting a friend at her dorm in Keller Hall, also accused him of intent to rape and told a judge that she woke up in the middle of the night to find him on top of her. He was arrested in the third students room, when she and her boyfriend, who was also in the room, alerted police who were in the hallway.

However, his charges were reduced from rape to breaking and entering with intent to commit assault, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Female students seemed to bear the brunt of some of the more violent crimes on campus. One woman convinced a man who dragged her into the woods by Westhampton lake at knifepoint to free her in 1986, while another woman was attacked near the lake in 1991.Women were also subject to a series of harassing phone calls, especially in Lora Robins Court in 1990, with varying degrees of vulgarity.

“The guy told me I should see his 12-inch-long - - - -,” one freshman told The Collegian. “I told him I was a lesbian and not interested.”

Another student observed that her caller must have been a “sexually repressed person” because she said, “he called me at 7:45 a.m. and asked me my bra size.” Westhampton students also occasionally dealt with theft and vandalism from male students during panty raids, a tradition chronicled this semester on the university’s Race and Racism Project’s blog. Richmond College students would normally run across the lake to the other side of campus where women would drop their underwear to students below.

But in 1977 and 1982, men ended up running into dormitories en masse, causing water damage. In the 1977 case, male students barged into open or unlocked rooms and stole underwear.

“Their behavior sickens me,” a campus policeman said according to the 1982 yearbook. “Before they graduate I’ll see to it that their actions are permanently recorded on their records.”

URPD has changed significantly since 1971. The force now is made up of 14 patrol officers, three detectives, a six person administrative team and six communications staff. The technology URPD uses now has also improved, with a mechanism for monitoring and sending UR alerts to students across campus via text, phone and email. “When I came to work here, we didn’t even have computers,” said Assistant Chief of Police Beth Simonds, who has been at URPD for 28 years. “You know, technology has been a huge change for the way policing is done all over the country.”

Liquor law violations have made up the most arrests in UR’s recent history, with 390 arrests made from 2001 to 2017, according to data obtained from the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. Burglaries are the most reported crime on campus, with 341 reports from 2001 to 2017, while every other criminal offense is significantly less common.

“A lot of our crimes are crimes of disorder, usually alcohol-fueled,” McCoy said. “Seems to be a unique tradition at this university to break or damage exit signs — been here seven years and I still can’t figure that one out.”

Forcible sex offenses, which includes rape and fondling, are by far the most commonly reported violent crime on campus, with 113 reports from 2001 to 2017. For comparison, aggravated assault has been reported only 27 times over the same 16 year period.For McCoy, the development of how the university handles sexual assault cases was one of the biggest changes he had seen while with URPD. Between 2001 and 2010, forcible sex offenses were reported an average of 2.3 times a year. Between 2011 and 2017, the average jumps to 12.8 times a year.

“I think the greatest, most significant change has been the level in the openness of sexual assault, sexual misconduct,” McCoy said. “That sometimes can be a painful thing to talk about but I think this university has grown in its ability to be open about this particular topic and how to address it best.”

Most of the day-to-day work the University Police does is mundane, though vital.This was certainly the case on the second Saturday night of the semester. University of Richmond Patrol Officer Brian Monahan had run into one of the apartments with a first aid kit to help a student who drank too much on her 21st birthday. It was the third stop of his patrol that night, following two cordial stops to address noise complaints and another to address two broken exit signs in Lora Robins Court.

By the time EMS arrived and loaded the student into a stretcher, Monahan said it looked like she would probably be all right.

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