Safe and sound: On-campus burglaries spark discussion of security

Emma Discher, Senior Staff Reporter Tess Riley

Tulane’s students and administrators saw a string of on-campus burglaries this weekend that raised questions about residence hall security. Non-affiliate Tyree Courtney gained entry to multiple residence halls before walking into at least seven unlocked rooms.

Tulane University Police Department arrested Courtney at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on two charges of unauthorized entry in Sharp Hall and one charge of simple burglary. The three charges were part of a number of on-campus crimes that TUPD is still investigating. Police linked Courtney to further incidents, but it is unclear if there will also be additional charges.

The crimes

A freshman resident* woke up at 5:45 a.m. Sunday morning in her Josephine-Louise Hall room when she saw and heard a figure at the end of her bed going through her roommate’s wallet. When she asked who was there, the intruder walked out of her room and she followed him out into the hallway to find him standing by the bathroom.  

“Out of the corner of my eye I saw him leaning against the hallway wall,” she said. “I turned around and jumped. I screamed, and I [said] ‘Who are you’ and he said ‘Oh I’m just looking for somebody.’ My RA’s door was right there so I just started pounding.”

The resident and her Residential Advisor reported the incident to TUPD. She reported that the intruder was wearing a green polo shirt and a Tulane baseball cap. Police then began looking through security camera footage in the area and in other residence halls for a man fitting that description. The footage did not capture the intruder in the JL hallway as the building only has one camera at the front.

Cameras across the campus in Sharp Hall did, however, capture footage of a man with similar appearance entering and exiting two rooms. In one room, the man removed a makeup bag, looked through it in the hallway, then returned it to the room before leaving.

Another freshman on-campus resident* was surprised when TUPD knocked on her door on the third floor of Sharp Hall to tell her that a man had been in her room the night before while she was sleeping. She did not notice anything missing despite her money, computer and phone sitting in plain sight.

“I honestly was not aware that any of this happened because I’m a really heavy sleeper,” she said.

The footage from Sharp led to Courtney’s identification and arrest on two charges of unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling and one charge of simple burglary.

“The [JL] victim provided a wonderful description [of Courtney],” TUPD Superintendent Jon Barnwell said. “In doing so based on the date and time of the incident we were able to go back to the cameras for the camera footage. When we pulled it up, the guy walking down the hall looked exactly like the description. It was pretty easy. We just did some legwork and began interviewing people.”

TUPD officers identified three other rooms in Sharp Hall that Courtney had also entered that night while reviewing more footage on Monday and another resident reported money missing from her room on Tuesday. The investigation is ongoing to determine if there were more dorm rooms involved and if Courtney was the same man to enter all of them.

Courtney had been hanging out with some of his friends that attend Tulane that night. He graduated from Warren Easton High School, just 12 minutes away from Tulane’s campus, in May.

Campus security

The string of burglaries raised questions of campus security for students and parents alike. Barnwell confirmed that Courtney entered into residence halls by Tulane affiliates with swipe access. He then left the building through a back stairwell that is marked as alarmed, but no alarm was activated.

“When [people] say lock your door and stuff, they’re treating it as if it’s our fault that we were robbed because our door was unlocked,” the other JL victim* said. “It’s the school’s responsibility. I mean, yeah, we all have personal responsibility … to lock [our] door, but when it comes down to it fundamentally, it’s the school’s responsibility to make sure the students are safe. We’re paying for dorms here, we’re paying for security. I just think there should be more cameras around.”

Brian Johnson, assistant vice president for housing, residence life and campus recreation, said the staff is looking into the number and placement of security cameras in campus buildings. Currently, buildings such as JL have fewer cameras than buildings like Sharp and Monroe halls. He said that staff training will also increase.

“We’re going to continue to train [Desk Services Coordainators] on guest policy,” Johnson said. “[We are] safety and security first. I don’t think we can overtrain in this environment.”

The crime alerts regarding the incidents also sparked several parent phone calls to TUPD that advised that the electronic locks in Barbara Greenbaum House at Newcomb Lawn were not working. The faulty system led students to leave their doors unsecured.

“The biggest concern is that anytime you have a couple of crime alerts go out in short order, students talk to parents and parents are actively involved in receiving our crime alerts,” Barnwell said. “It generates a lot of questions as to how we’re pursuing the investigation and what are we doing in the meantime to help ensure the safety of our students. So we’ve been taking a lot of those calls [from parents] and working with Student Affairs. That’s natural. It’s expected.”

In response to the calls, Johnson had an RA on duty in Greenbaum do rounds to check every door in the building. Johnson also pushed the importance of community in the residence halls.

“Living in a residence hall, the expectation is that visitors are escorted by residents,” Johnson said. “We as a community have to start looking out for each other. It’s up to us to take care of one another.”

In fact, it was the close-knit community that led at least one of the victims to not think twice about leaving her door unlocked.

“I learned that I should probably do a better job of locking my door,” one of the JL victims said. “But, JL, we always thought of it as a safe dorm. It’s not Monroe or Sharp, everyone here is a community, we all like being around each other, I know their faces, I trust them, everyone felt that way.”

Despite housing and Student Affairs relocation offers to the victims, it does not seem that any of the students will be moving residence halls or rooms at this time.

“If it was a random man off the street I don’t think I would feel safe because JL is kind of more off campus,” she said. “You could kind of associate this as like a student theft because we didn’t really know he wasn’t a student here. But that’s gonna happen everywhere. I’m sure Monroe and Sharp have even more student-to-student thefts. I guess you could file him under ‘student.’ Just the fact that he happened to be a random man living here that doesn’t actually go here was another surprise.”

* The identity of these students are not being revealed due to the ongoing nature of the TUPD investigation.