Campus on alert
It’s spring break at the University of Oregon and other schools.
But Eugene’s string of recent robberies has left University of Oregon police doing anything but taking a break.
UOPD officers are patrolling the campus and its surrounding neighborhoods in full force nightly, looking for the criminals responsible for the four robberies and two holdup attempts near the university since March 2.
“Specifically, I’m looking for bad guys in the alley looking to rob people,” UOPD Corporal Adam Lillengreen said during a recent nightly patrol. “But really, it’s just to be seen. We’re late in the game, so we’re looking to be seen and have a presence to deter any robbery behavior.”
The campus-area crimes are among the dozen robberies that have taken place in Eugene and Springfield since Feb. 23. Most of the holdups were done at gunpoint.
The latest robbery took place on Friday night, when a man used a gun to rob a 20-year old employee at Little Caesar’s Pizza in west Eugene.
Police have arrested two men in connection with a pair of the robberies, but they have not made arrests in the campus-area and other robberies.
The crime spree has put UO students on alert and their parents on edge, including some who have written to UO and Eugene officials to express concerns about safety.
UOPD has beefed up patrols on and around the campus.
Typically, three UOPD officers are on patrol Friday nights, but eight worked the last Friday night shift.
Also, the UO has extended the hours of its shuttle service from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily so students don’t have to walk in the neighborhoods around the campus at night.
“I recall street robberies, but I don’t remember a high volume of street robberies in a short amount of time like there has been,” Lillengreen said. “Six or seven in three weeks? I don’t remember a ratio like that.”
On March 8, UO student Allie Murray Smith was robbed at gunpoint by a white man, between 5-foot-10 to 6 foot, 180 pounds, who was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt.
Later that day, she posted on Facebook that the robber took credit cards and some cash.
“I am totally fine, just incredibly shook and scared,” she wrote, before cautioning other students to be careful.
“A reminder to all of my ladies, and to my men, there are some scary people around here and don’t walk alone, and be alert. Let your friends know where you are. Although I wish it was safe enough to walk alone all the time, we sadly don’t have that luxury.”
Last year, the city had 178 robberies, up 28 percent form the year earlier, according to the Eugene Police Department.
The figure included armed and unarmed robberies.
Shuttle, ride-hailing services
About 11 p.m. Friday, Lillengreen stopped UO student Tuck Bui as he walked alone in the West University neighborhood.
Lillengreen asked Bui if he knew about the UO shuttle service.
Bui, 21, said he was aware of the service but said it was only a 10- minute walk to a friend’s house.
“I was looking around though, trying to get to my friend’s place as fast as possible, because of the robberies, the armed robberies,” he said.
Before the crimes, Bui said he didn’t feel concerned about walking at night. Eugene is “a small town,” he said, “so I thought things like that wouldn’t happen.”
Afterwards, Lillengreen said students like Bui need to be cautious.
“There’s something to be said for exercising and walking by yourself, but when it’s 11 o’clock at night and you’ve got your hood up and your earbuds in, anyone can sneak up on you,” he said.
UO student Savannah Winchell, 20, and two of her friends left a house party on West 11th Alley early Saturday morning and called the UO’s Designated Driver shuttle to pick them up.
The ride service gives late-night rides to students so they aren’t tempted to drink and drive.
Winchell said she called the shuttle to get a safe ride after a party, not out of concern about the robberies.
The robberies “would heighten a sense of awareness and maybe a little bit more fear, but other than that, I think this service is a good way to provide a safe ride home for students,” she said.
Two other free ride services are geared for UO students.
Safe Ride is a taxi-type service, where students call ahead and schedule a ride. And the new UO campus shuttle is a fixed-route bus program for the campus area.
Concern about student safety has prompted some people to ask Eugene officials to allow ride-hailing services such as Uber.
Mayor Lucy Vinis wrote that she had received more than 150 emails from people on the topic, many of them in favor of such services.
One of them was Terri Crinnon, a parent of a UO student, who said her son used one of the UO’s ride services, but he did not find it convenient or reliable.
“I am so glad I do not have a girl attending UO walking around at night,” Crinnon wrote. “This recent spat of serious crimes on and near campus only intensifies the need to have these ride-sharing services available to our kids.”
Lillengreen said he advises students and others to trust their instincts when they are on the streets at night.
“If you feel like a situation is not safe or doesn’t feel right, then do what you can to get out of it,” Lillengreen said. “Trust those instincts, don’t just keep walking like, ‘Oh, he’s not following me. Nothing’s going to happen.’ If you feel like you need to run, run! If you feel like you need to call the police, call the police.”
Students sometime ask Lillengreen for a ride home, which he doesn’t mind. “As a campus cop, that’s just part of our job,” he said.
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