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Chapel Hill police, UNC urge precaution after break-in cases

After five women woke up to strangers in their bedrooms and with no suspect for the incidents in custody, Chapel Hill and University police are ramping up security measures off campus.

Officials said these extra steps are meant to supplement safety advice that should be practiced consistently, but they recognized the ease of neglecting these precautions in day-to-day life.

“Students and society at large are most attentive when something is happening and awakens us to realize,” said Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls. “When something is not public or current, folks might not pay as much attention.”

In less than a week, an unidentified male intruder has entered the unlocked residences of four groups of students living off campus.

The first two incidents occurred between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Friday on the 300 blocks of both Church Street and Pritchard Avenue. The latest two incidents occurred between 6:30 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. Sunday at Mill Creek Condominiums, located at 700 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

All but the two students on Pritchard woke up to a man touching their leg. Although the descriptions for the man differ slightly from case to case, all women said he was black or dark-skinned.

“We’re working diligently to try to identify a suspect,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said. “These are obviously really bold events, and we share the same safety concerns as everyone else.”

Blue said police have increased surveillance efforts in the wake of the burglaries.

He said the police department is also working closely with UNC Department of Public Safety, which could help identify victims that may not have come forward.

“We have definitely beefed up both our conspicuous visible patrols as well as those that you might not see,” Blue said. “We’re working these cases with lots of enthusiasm because these are disturbing, and we want to stop them.”

After the murder of former Student Body President Eve Carson nearly three years ago today, University and town officials began a significant campaign to bolster off-campus safety.

Town Manger Roger Stancil started meeting with then-Student Body President J.J. Raynor, a practice that has continued with presidents in the following years.

Blue said police also met with student government members last year after elections, something he said they look forward to doing again in addition to regular meetings with University police.

“We interact with UNC public safety every day,” he said. “That relationship couldn’t be better.”

But those relationships can only do so much, Blue said.

“Folks really need to lock their doors,” he said. “They do not need to be shy at all about calling 911.”

Seniors Laura Cathey and Leslie Fincher, who live in an apartment on Church Street, said the break-ins have reminded them they need to make sure their doors and windows are locked at night.

“I feel like you can just get caught up on being centered on campus in this kind of bubble, and you don’t really think about those things,” Cathey said. “Sometimes we don’t dead bolt our door, so we make sure to think about that a little more.”

The University issued a mass e-mail Wednesday night reminding students of safety precautions and urging them to report any suspicious activity immediately.

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