GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a well-coordinated blitz that took no more than eight minutes, a gang of thieves targeted dozens of student vehicles parked at Aquinas College early Sunday morning, according to campus security.
“The surveillance camera shows three vehicles entered the lot around 6 a.m.,” said Kevin Kwiatkowski, director of Campus Safety at Aquinas. “Individuals in the vehicles scattered, checked all the (vehicle) doors, broke the windows … Five to eight minutes later, they exit the lot.”
In total, Kwiatkowski said criminals broke into at least 10 out of the 50 to 60 student vehicles that were parked at the school’s Performing Arts Center at 1703 Robinson Road SE.
In most cases, the thieves smashed windows to gain entry.
“We’ve had several lots broken into in the past few months,” said Kwiatkowski, though he noted thieves usually hit parking lots on the north side of the campus, off Fulton Street.
“This has been the worst,” he said, referring to Sunday’s coordinated strike at the Robinson Road lot. “Three carloads and roughly at least six (thieves) to each car.”
In the past, criminals breaking into cars have largely operated alone.
“It’s been one person,” recalled Kwiatkowski. “They come through, they walk through, they do their thing. But now, it’s … more than one person. It’s scheduled and planned.”
What happened Sunday is more evidence of a new and growing breed of crime in Grand Rapids and nationwide; Brazen criminals are working together, taking bigger risks, endangering themselves and others.
Aquinas sophomore Kasy Shadduck’s car was among those hit Sunday morning.
“They took my wallet,” lamented Shadduck. “The one night of the whole year that I’ve left my wallet in my car.”
Shadduck said he returned from Halloween festivities around 1:45 Sunday morning and received a call from campus security around 10:30 a.m.
His backseat passenger side window had been shattered.
“I taped it up,” explained Shadduck, gesturing to the duct-taped plastic covering the window. “Tried to tape it from the inside and shut it in the door. I hope it’s not too wet. But it’s gonna be a cold few days.”
Shadduck said his credit card was subsequently used to make two PlayStation purchases, order one DoorDash delivery, and buy $317 worth of items at the Meijer on 28th Street SE. “That was in person,” said Shadduck, referring to the Meijer purchase. “So, I’m hoping that was a mistake right there. We’re gonna try to catch these guys so hopefully it never happens again.”
Aquinas Campus Safety is working with the Grand Rapids Police Department on the case.
Shadduck’s already made contact with GRPD.
He reached out to News 8 about the break-ins because he doesn’t think Aquinas is doing enough to secure its parking lots.
STUDENT TO AQUINAS: SECURE PARKING LOTS, NOT PARKING TICKETS
“There are no cameras to park under,” he noted. “Like they say in their email, they say, ‘Park under well-lit, camera-covered areas’ … There’s only one camera, and it’s on that building way over there. There’s no camera over here. If we’re going to pay to park here and have a car here, I think we should be safe here.”
Two other students, Claire Hines and Charlie Stachnik, share Shadduck’s concern.
“I want to feel safe where I’m parking,” Hines, an Aquinas sophomore, told News 8 Monday. “The parking pass is like $300. You’d think, you’re spending that much money, there’s security.”
Stachnik, a junior, said Aquinas needs to spend more resources on securing parking lots, not distributing parking tickets.
He wanted to see more parking lot cameras too.
“I’ve counted more cameras inside the dorms than I have in the parking lot,” said Stachnik.
Hines was eating breakfast with friends Sunday morning when one of them received notification from campus safety that thieves had broken into her car.
“We headed down to check it out,” recalled Hines, a sophomore. “There were eight cars almost in a row … Their windows were shattered. One of them had two windows shattered. There was stuff ripped out of the center console. All over the seats. Glass everywhere. One of my friends had her registration stolen. They stole credit cards, and they stole all the food out of the back seat. She had just gone to Costco.”
Hines said she usually parks at the Performing Arts Center too, but this weekend was the first time this semester that she left her vehicle elsewhere.
“It didn’t personally happen to me,” explained Hines. “But I know my friends are pretty distraught about it. It was pretty traumatic.”
Hines doesn’t understand why Aquinas has only one camera monitoring a parking lot that’s longer than a football field.
“That’s the only camera that’s in this lot, I believe,” said Hines, pointing to the camera affixed to the side of the building that houses Circle Theater.
AQUINAS: WE HAVE CAMERAS, 24-HR SECURITY
But Campus Safety Director Kevin Kwiatkowski said it’s not logistically possible to install a camera on the far edge of the lot.
“From where the switch is (inside the performing arts building) to the camera has to be 300 feet or less,” explained Kwiatkowski. “The other side of the lot is way beyond 300 feet.”
The director said Aquinas is looking into wireless cameras as an option, but the technology involved has not yet been perfected.
Additionally, the campus already has more than 200 cameras monitoring its 100-plus acres, he said.
“We’re doing what we can,” said Kwiatkowski. “We have cameras, and we do have 24-hour security in all of campus. But we … have 47 buildings and 20 parking lots to cover, including medical (responsibilities) and everything else in between.”
He also noted that, while he hopes cameras act as a deterrent to criminals, they are largely reactive, not proactive.
“Cameras aren’t the savior,” he said. “Taking your stuff with you. Not giving them the opportunity is number one.”
If you have to leave something in the vehicle, make sure it’s out of sight, like locked up in the trunk, for instance.
Kwiatkowski said a vehicle was stolen from the Browne Parking lot at 2001 Robinson Road SE about a month ago.
“The vehicle was left open,” he noted. “The keys were left inside.”