A suspect is in custody following five robberies that occurred on or near campus in under two months, according to the Bradley University Police Department.
The university announced the arrest by Peoria Police Department on Jan. 18, two days after the fifth incident but could not release further details due to the suspect being a 16-year-old minor.
The suspect matched witness description and was found with the weapon reported.
“There were three individuals who were stopped, one of which was carrying a pellet gun,” Brian Joschko, chief of police at Bradley University, said. “Out of that, one of those three was positively identified.”
The evidence collected at the scenes and patterned methods led police to believe the crimes were being committed by the same individuals.
“They were going up to individuals and were displaying a weapon or implying a weapon and then they were demanding property, whether it was a wallet or a cellphone,” Joschko said. “Each case was a little bit different.”
While some of the robberies involved one suspect, some involved two. According to Joschko, Peoria police continue to follow up on leads to make additional identifications.
“What I will say is that they were very brazen and very much targeting individuals that would drive to the front of their building, park their car, and they would be walking from their car to their building, which would be in eyesight,” Joschko said.
BUPD sent out alerts to faculty, staff and students notifying them of each incident. Many called for action on part of the university.
Senior psychology major Christina Wiebmer and senior sociology major Krista Horn were among several students who started an online petition on Jan. 16 urging the university to increase campus safety. The petition currently has nearly 2,000 signatures on change.com.
“We want to enhance safety on Bradley University’s campus,” Wiebmer posted in the petition. “We want the university and police station to invest in more safety cruisers with longer hours, more lighting and security cameras, and more police patrols both on and off campus.”
With the suspect in custody, Joschko said the immediate threat has passed. Still, BUPD and the university have used the string of crimes to re-evaluate campus safety. The university sent an email to all students on Jan. 17 detailing changes they were making, safety measures and available resources.
The university announced that while BUPD will maintain a staff of 21 trained officers, a new position called “public safety officer” would be created to assume some of the more routine responsibilities like securing campus buildings.
“Right now, a lot of that job function is handled by the police department and the facilities department, so [this position] frees up that police officer aspect of it so the police officers are going out doing police work, which is where we want our officers to be in the first place,” Joschko said.
The Hilltop Safety Cruiser hours of operation have also been extended from 7 p.m. through 3 a.m. to “dusk” until 3 a.m. Joschko said the permanence of these hours will be evaluated based on need and could potentially mean adding a third cruiser.
University emails and BUPD have also urged students to take preventative action against crimes like this moving forward. However, some students found issues with messages like “Don’t be easy prey” and “Do not walk alone in the dark.”
“Personally, the message felt like a slap in the face to myself and a lot of others,” Horn said. “Being told not to walk at night isn’t really the solution we were hoping for, and felt pretty condescending.”
BUPD and the university continue to promote safety tips and is planning to host self-defense and situational awareness classes throughout February.
“While these individuals may be in custody, it’s an urban environment and people need to make sure they’re not taking unnecessary risk and really paying attention to what’s going on around them,” Joschko said. “One of the big things were asking for is for folks to report suspicious activity as they’re seeing it, don’t wait.”