Senior Jen Wilkinson always keeps the door to the room of her Chamberlain quad shut because she says she is paranoid of having her things taken. But after four laptops were stolen from the building in one night, her concerns have turned out to be more rational than she thought.
"It's hard to have a good sense of community when you have to keep your door closed," said Wilkinson, "but it is a big dorm though so it's probably a good target."
The dorm turned out to be a target when, in the early hours of March 5, two laptops from the fourth floor and two from the third, each valued at about $1,500, were stolen by what Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols described as non-Bowdoin students visiting from out of state.
"They were not known to the vast majority of the people in Chamberlain," Nichols said.
According to Nichols and Security Officer Paul Healey, who is the primary investigator of the case along with Patrol Supervisor Lester Wood, five males are suspected of being involved, four of whom were actually in Chamberlain at the time. Nichols said Security believes the fifth male is a former Bowdoin student, but would not give more detail because the case is still undergoing investigation.
Healey has interviewed approximately 20 students. The Brunswick Police Department and also the Massachusetts authorities are involved. Nichols said as of yet no eyewitnesses have come forward, but a videotape exists that is "useful but not conclusive."
None of the property has been recovered, and Nichols and Healey believe it has been taken out of state.
"Unfortunately the property is probably long gone," Nichols said. "We've accumulated a lot of evidence, but not enough to make any arrests."
However, Nichols did say that on Wednesday one of three laptops stolen from Coles Tower in August 2004 was recovered and returned to a student, who is now a senior. One of the two suspects in the case was located and the property was recovered.
"Our record of getting things back has been very good this year," said Nichols.
David Duhalde '07, whose Dell laptop was stolen on March 5, said that he is comforted that it was not Bowdoin students who took his computer.
Sophomore Ben LeHay, whose iBook was stolen, agreed.
"It does make me feel better that it's not Bowdoin students, but it does make you wary of strangers," he said.
However, Bowdoin students may have made it easier for the suspects to enter the building. Duhalde said the door to Chamberlain was propped open with the hall phone that night.
"The four people who entered Chamberlain were actually let in by students and were also let in to Coles Tower," said Nichols. "We can have the most elaborate security system, but if we let people into buildings we're defeating this."
Duhalde and LeHay said they were pleased by the response time of Security, but Duhalde said he should have called Security earlier.
"In this instance, many said that they had sensed that something was wrong, but if one person had acted on it, we would have escorted [the suspects] off campus," said Nichols. "All we needed was a phone call to alert us."
On the night the computers were stolen, Nichols said there was a good deal of traffic moving in and out of the dorm. Roshani Grant '08, who lives on the second floor, said she noticed random people walking around and made sure to close her door when she went to take a shower. She said now she is considering buying a lock for her computer.
"There's not much you can do besides telling students to be careful," she said. "You can take extra precautions, but you can't be looking over your shoulder all of the time."
Chamberlain resident Jeremy Huckins '06 is putting together a database of the serial numbers of the stolen property, which he said he'll use to search for the computers on the internet. Huckins, whose iPod and cell phone were stolen from his car last year at School Street, said that he and his quad-mates have been more careful about shutting their door.
"We used to leave the door open all the time and our friend would come in and play Playstation even when we weren't there," he said. "Now we always lock it."
Healey and Nichols cited propped doors as a large factor in the crime.
"Sometimes it's perfectly safe to prop your door," said Nichols, "but when you prop a door you're giving a thief easy access."
However, students are concerned that keeping doors closed prohibits members of dorms from establishing a sense of community, especially in large dorms like Chamberlain.
"It created a friendlier environment with the doors propped," Grant said. "I know people who left their door propped all the time and now they make sure it's shut."
"It's kind of a contradiction between at the beginning of the year when we were all going to paint bricks and leave our doors open and now we have to leave them closed all the time," Wilkinson said.
Nichols said that this year the overall number of thefts has remained steady or slightly decreased, but in the last few years there has been a "pretty significant increase" in the theft of electronic equipment.
"I choose this school for that reason, that this is a place where you can leave your stuff out and no one will take it," LeHay said. "It's a disappointment, but it's still a safe place."
Duhalde said he does not feel any more uncomfortable on campus now than he did before his computer was stolen.
"It's not that Bowdoin's not safe," Duhalde said. "It's that we have to be a little bit smarter."