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Automobile thefts darken initiation of new gate policy
by Mike Castillo
The newly implemented gate policy of leaving entrance three open for access from Main Street to the back lots of Sid Richardson, Lovett, Will Rice, Hanszen and Wiess colleges began on an ominous note. Since the gate's first night open, March 13, there have been two car thefts and two break-ins.

The first car was stolen from the Lovett lot some time during the night of March 13, according to Lovett College Master Connie Burke. Over spring recess, another car was stolen, and two more were burglarized. According to Chief of Rice Campus Police Mary Voswinkel, the second theft and one of the burglaries occurred in the Hanszen lot, while the other burglary took place in the SRC lot. These three incidents occurred on March 28, and are believed to be related by Voswinkel.

Neill Binford, associate vice president of Finance and Administration, said that it is not known whether these cars were stolen after midnight, when the entrance would have been blocked under the previous policy.

The Lovett student parked her car in Lot X sometime around 10:30 p.m., and the other incidents occurred between 9:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. The Lovett student's vehicle was found the next morning in Galveston with a broken steering column.

According to Voswinkel, the Campus Police also found a car that night without any Rice identification stickers; when its license plate numbers were run through the Campus Police system, it was found that the car was a stolen vehicle. Most likely, Voswinkel said, the thieves who stole the car from the Lovett lot also dropped this car off.

In the other incident, a Campus Police officer noticed an unregistered vehicle around 1:30 a.m. that was found to be a stolen vehicle. It is believed that this car was left behind when the Hanszen student's car was stolen.

The Hanszen student's vehicle was recovered on the east side of Houston with both a broken window and steering column.

At this point, the Campus Police are not changing any policies or adding any extra security to the area, but they are monitoring the situation very closely, Voswinkel said.

"Whenever something like this happens, we make sure to go over it with all the officers so that their awareness is heightened," Vos-winkel said.

Burke hopes the similarities of the two incidents are merely coincidence. "Two data points are not a pattern, but we shouldn't wait around either," she said.

This gate policy was implemented to increase convenience for students who need to reach the lots of the back colleges after midnight.

"The greatest good right now is access," Burke said. "If it becomes a safety issue, we have to rethink it."

Burke though is still concerned about the safety of leaving the driveway to the back lots open. "It concerns me because my cars are very vulnerable. Lovett House is the first building off of Main Street," she said.

Hanszen College master Dennis Huston also has reservations about this policy. "It seemed like a good idea until the car was stolen. Obviously this means it might be best to go back to the way we were doing things before," he said.

Dave Hindman, senior and president of SRC, notes that many students became concerned about safety when told of this incident. He sees a problem with the lack of a deterrent near the open gate. "We know that there are police up by the college, but they aren't seen sitting in police cars, so we don't get the benefit of a visible police presence," he said.

According to Binford, there have been reports of non-Rice juveniles peering in cars around campus. This, Binford said, along with the fact that it is not known exactly when the cars were stolen, makes the question of the gate policy change a non-issue.

If the thieves were on foot, or if the car theft occurred before midnight, then the gate would not have deterred this crime. "We've had cars stolen on campus before. We've never gone a year without that happening," Binford said.

This item appeared in the News section of the April 4, 1997 issue.

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