Dorm incident causes scare on campus

Campus has been buzzing since a UM student was arrested last weekend after he entered two unlocked rooms in Mahoney Residential College and assaulted several students.

For the most part, however, students were startled by the incident, but are not doubting the quality of UM’s on-campus security.

“I was surprised because I was just talking to my friend that night about how safe I’d felt in the dorms … but I don’t think it’s affecting how students feel about safety,” said freshman Madelyn Tarr, who lives in Stanford Residential College.

The university has a variety of safety measures in place so that students feel safe on campus. For example, between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., the main doors at the five residential colleges automatically lock, and only residents can use their Cane Cards to swipe in. Security checkpoints inside require residents to check themselves and their guests in.

Junior Eric Fields said he is generally satisfied with campus security, but recognizes its loopholes.

“It’s not overbearing, but you always feel like they’re there,” said Fields, who lives in the University Village (UV). “I like that the doors lock at night and you need a Cane Card to get in, even though that’s sort of flawed because you could just walk in behind somebody that’s already swiped their card and not get much of a second look.”

Jim Smart, the director of Housing and Residential Life, said that one of the biggest problems regarding dorm security is “tailgating.” Smart said tailgating occurs when students who live in a dorm swipe in and let whoever is standing behind them walk in as well, without knowing them or knowing if they live there.

Chief David Rivero of UM’s Police Department (UMPD) said students need to be cautious with bringing people into the residential colleges they do not know.

“Any time a student brings a stranger to the dorms, they’re breaching our safety envelope,” he said. “That’s makes the dorms not as safe.”

Still, Rivero said that the reason the UV has “zero to little” crime is because it requires residents to swipe in no matter the time of day.

But the university is strengthening its involvement in keeping residents’ rooms secure. Starting with Eaton Residential College, students will be required to swipe their Cane Cards to enter the building 24/7. The improvements include new door locks similar to those at the UV, which lock automatically.

“This will probably save us 20 to 30 crimes a year,” he said.

Rivero said that all the residential colleges will eventually have this new system.

‘Student-on-student’ crimes

Still, the problem with this weekend’s incident was that the perpetrator was a student who actually lived in Mahoney.

Jiahao Yuan, who is a junior according to his Facebook profile page, was charged with two counts of occupied burglary and assault or battery.

Police took Yuan into custody after the burglary, which took place Sunday around 6 a.m., according to an article in The Miami Herald.

Yuan is currently an inmate at Miami-Dade County’s Training and Treatment Center and held without bond.

Rivero said that once Yuan undergoes the legal process, he could possibly spend his life in jail or be deported back to his home in China. Burglary with assault or battery is a first-degree felony; those convicted of this crime can spend up to 30 years, or life in prison.

Yuan’s case is similar to previous burglary incidents in the residential colleges. On April 11, a UMPD alert stated that an unknown black male stole a laptop from an unlocked room in Hecht Residential College. And on Oct. 23, 2010, an unknown white male stole an MP3 player from an unlocked room in Stanford Residential College, according to another alert.

Sophomore Morgan Coleman, who lives in an off-campus apartment, said she would feel unsafe if a stranger breaks in to a residential college, like in the past, rather than a student like Yuan.

According to his Facebook and LinkedIn profile pages, Yuan appears to be an average, involved UM student – he is known as Philip, is studying entrepreneurship, marketing and art.

But the fact that he seems normal could be a threat. Rivero said that on-campus crime is typically “student-on-student.”

“It’s very rare that we have someone come from the community to victimize us, especially if it involves a person’s crime like robbery, assault and sex offenses,” he said.

Rivero said that 80 percent of on-campus crime is theft of unattended property. Last year, for instance, UMPD arrested a student who was stealing unattended books and later selling them.

“If there’s a student that has his eyes set on stealing something, he’s going to find a victim easily here,” Rivero said.

Crime prevention

Although Rivero said that this kind of crime is difficult to prevent, UMPD has a variety of safety initiatives in place. They provide educational resources in their office and online, and also have security officers, cameras and a blue light emergency telephone system on campus. The blue light system provides a direct connection to the police.

Coleman said she feels safe when she sees the large amount of security patrols and cameras around campus.

In fact, Yuan was identified through footage from one of these cameras.

According to Rivero, there are 500 security cameras installed around campus, the majority of which are “better than hi-def.” Rivero said that there is such a camera atop Richter Library which can decipher the license tag of a car driving down Miller Drive.

Also UMPD is currently working with a new facial recognition software similar to the one at Pinellas County’s police department.

Rivero said that this new technology, along with education, is how UMPD and the university are tackling any crime on campus.

Crime on UM’s Coral Gables campus has declined almost 31 percent since the time Rivero became chief in 2006.

“My daughter lives on campus so I have a vested interest in knowing our residential colleges are safe and that our students are safe,” he said. “We’re continuously pushing our cops, our student guards and our student patrols to get more aggressive to try to keep campus safe.”

News editor Alysha Khan and assistant news editor Lyssa Goldberg contributed to this report.