Recent muggings put campus safety in question

Campus was bustling mid-afternoon on Jan. 28 when a student was mugged in broad daylight near her University Village apartment.

Senior Michelle Waltenburg was walking from the UV to the computer lab to print a lecture for class. When she took her Cane Card out of her wallet to gain access to the building, someone ambushed her, snatching her wristlet and cell phone.

“It was a whirlwind of an experience,” Waltenburg said. “So overwhelming. It happened so fast, I didn’t know what happened. I screamed and started crying.”

Waltenburg is the third student in the last year to be mugged on campus, which doesn’t include the robberies that occur at the Metrorail station. According to the University of Miami Police Department’s (UMPD) report to the Department of Education, there were three robberies in 2010, none in 2011 and one in 2012. Since last April, there have already been three.

“These are crimes of opportunity where the criminals look for easy targets,” said David Rivero, UMPD police chief. “It’s hard to determine why they increase, but crime moves because of displacement; when one area starts getting a lot of heat, the criminals go elsewhere.”

Like Waltenburg, Ana Mantica was on the south side of campus in broad daylight when she was robbed. On Nov. 5, Mantica, a graduate student at the School of Education, was walking on San Amaro Drive during her 2 p.m. lunch break when someone snuck up behind her and took her iPhone 5 out of her hand.

She was dialing her mother.

“I normally used to walk up and down that street at lunch to clear my head,” Mantica said. “I don’t walk down that street anymore now. You lose a sense of security.”

According to the police report, the thief got away with Waltenburg’s iPhone 5, her wallet with four credit cards, her driver’s license, Cane Card, Metrorail card, insurance card, $40 and her keys.

The items are valued at $464, but Waltenburg explained that feeling safe on campus and at her house was the greater loss.

“I keep thinking what I could have done differently, but it wasn’t a weird time or dark,” Waltenburg said. “I get nervous every time I walk to the printing lab now and I go there all the time.”

Coral Gables Police have been unsuccessful bringing these criminals to justice yet. Walterburg’s and Manitca’s muggings involved an unarmed person quickly grabbing their items and running away into a car. The crimes, however, are believed to have been committed by different people.

Law enforcement explains that these are crimes of opportunity. UMPD stresses there are actions students and staff can do to lessen their chances of becoming a victim, like staying alert while heading to class, avoiding carrying phones or jewelry in your hand, and when possible, walking with a friend.

While Waltenburg’s and Mantica’s experience is unsettling, they were unharmed and were not threatened with deadly weapons.

During the attempted mugging last April, junior Raisa Uddin was walking down San Amaro Drive a little before midnight when a woman sitting inside a white car pointed a black handgun at Uddin and shouted “Give me your stuff!” the police report states. Uddin then darted to the Hecht Athletic Center, took refuge inside and called police.

While the University of Miami repeatedly has the lowest robbery rate than any other school in Florida, there has been an increase in student robberies in the past year even though crime at UM has dropped from a high of 454 crimes in 2003 to a low of 191 crimes in 2013.

Crime Prevention Officer John Gulla explains that there are security escorts available at all times to give you a ride anywhere near campus. Security escorts can be reached by calling UMPD at 305-284-6666 or by using one of the more than 100 blue light phones  located throughout campus.

Gulla also teaches self-defense classes for women. One is called Rape Aggression Defense (RAD), a three-night comprehensive course accepting applicants for April. The other is Self-Defense Awareness and Familiarization Exchange (SAFE), a two and half hour class happening again in March.

“Crime does happen in every neighborhood,” Rivero said. “It can happen to anyone at anytime, but what’s most important is to be aware and not let yourself be an easy victim.”