Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, August 26, 2011

Police offer update on investigation into campus-area assaults

Editors note: The following update on the summer assaults was distributed to faculty, staff and students on August 26.

To the University of Michigan Community,

Police continue to investigate a series of sexual assaults near the U-M campus that occurred in July, plus an incident Aug. 18 in which a woman was grabbed, but broke free. Investigators have circulated composite sketches of possible subjects and there is a $1,000 reward being offered to information that leads to an arrest.

More information

Click here for more information on the university’s response to these recent assault.

Presented here in a question-and-answer format is an update on the investigation from three local police officials:

• John Seto, deputy chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department, which is the lead agency in the investigation.

• Joe Piersante, deputy chief of the U-M Department of Public Safety who served much of the past year as interim chief.

• Greg O’Dell, the newly appointed U-M chief of police. He is a former Ann Arbor Police Department deputy chief and most recently was director of public safety at Eastern Michigan University.

Q. What is the status of the investigation?

Seto: The Ann Arbor Police Department continues to investigate the reports of assaults from July 15-26. We have collaborated with other law enforcement agencies, including the U-M Department of Public Safety, to follow up more than 600 tips, conduct increased patrols of the neighborhoods and fully investigate these incidents. These investigations continue to be a top priority of our department, while also continuing our policing throughout our community.

Q. Do we know yet if the suspect is more than one person?

Seto: We are not in a position to release any specific details of what our investigations have revealed. However, we urge the community to check the renderings we released in late July. But we also encourage the community to remain vigilant to other potential perpetrators.

Q. How likely is it to catch someone now that more than a month has gone by?

Seto: The investigation continues and we remain vigilant regardless of how many weeks have gone by. As mentioned above, we still have numerous tips and leads to investigate. In addition, through Crime Stoppers, we continue to offer a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.

Q. Is it possible he has left the community?

Seto: Again, I cannot get into the specifics of our investigation. We continue to explore all possibilities and remain vigilant that a predator still may be in our community. Until a conclusion is reached in our investigation, we will continue to work with the community to ensure everyone’s safety.

Q. What is the university and the city’s strategy for combating the recent spike in street attacks?

Seto: We recognize that we have had a number of reports of crimes that have drawn considerable public attention. Obviously the reports of sexual assaults have been very disturbing. Our strategy is to continue our efforts in working with the community and with other law enforcement agencies, such as the University of Michigan Police. Citizens may review crime trends within the city through crimemapping.com. Also the collaboration between the Ann Arbor Police and the University Police is very strong. Our officers often are backing each other up at disturbances near campus.

Piersante: On campus we have experienced an overall reduction in crime. However particularly in response to the reported sexual assaults in July, we adjusted officer work schedules to increase the number of uniformed officer patrols and have assigned both patrol personnel and detectives to assist AAPD with the investigation.

O’Dell: There is an excellent partnership between the Ann Arbor Police and the University Police. DPS will continue to make every resource available to respond to this investigation — it is our top priority as students return to campus. Sexual assault is a horrible crime that violates everyone’s safety regardless whether the perpetrator is a stranger or someone known to the victim.

Q. What else is the university doing?

Piersante: Officers in our Team Community Oriented Policing program have been meeting with staff members across campus to discuss how they can help increase the number of eyes and ears we have reporting suspicious behavior. Officers also made safety presentations at each new student and parent orientation session throughout the summer. Our safety refresher sessions provide tips on what suspicious behaviors can look like, risk reduction strategies individuals can implement to increase their safety and information pertaining to the sexual assaults and other crimes.

In addition to the door-to-door canvassing the Ann Arbor Police conducted in the neighborhoods in which the assaults were reported, we’ve distributed copies of the suspect renderings flier to be posted in all of the U-M buses, all major buildings and each residence hall. The university also has posted a number of resource documents on a website page that is accessible from the main U-M gateway.

Q. How prevalent are sexual assaults on campus?

Piersante: University statistics show that approximately 35 to 45 sexual assaults a year are reported to the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. Police receive far fewer reports. It is important to note that nationally sexual assault is a highly under-reported crime.

It also is important to remember that while sexual assaults do occur on campus, the vast majority of those assaults occur between two people who know each, rather than by a stranger. Research conducted by the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Justice tells us that 90 percent of college students who experience sexual assault on campus know their perpetrator as a classmate, a friend, a significant other or an acquaintance.

Q. What can a person do to help stay safe?

O’Dell: Always follow strong safety and risk reduction techniques:

• Be aware of your surroundings at all times. For example, don’t wear earphones or talk on the phone when walking.

• Walk with a trusted friend whenever possible.

• Reduce your vulnerability by monitoring alcohol intake.

• Attempt to walk in well-lit, high-traffic areas.

• Keep apartment and car doors locked.

• Consider late-night transportation options, including taxi services. There are several options available including a service that provides transportation from central or north campus. Visit http://pts.umich.edu/alternative_transportation.

• Immediately report suspicious behavior to police. Police would rather respond to something that turns out to be OK than be called after suspects have fled the area.

• For students and staff of the university, sign up for U-M Emergency Alerts. The system sends a text and voice mail to your phone and email if there is an urgent situation. You can sign up through Wolverine Access.

Q. How many tips have police received?

Seto: Through the AAPD tip line, Crime Stoppers and U-M DPS, we have received more than 600 tips. We always welcome information from the public as community members serve as additional eyes and ears for law enforcement.

Q. Is this typically a safe campus? What about the city of Ann Arbor?

O’Dell: As the new U-M Chief of Police, a former Ann Arbor Police deputy chief and a resident of Ann Arbor, I can attest to the fact that Ann Arbor and the U-M campus are relatively safe environments. However, we need to recognize that crimes occur in all communities, including Ann Arbor. By employing smart risk reduction strategies, we can help contribute to a safe community.

Q. What can students do to help in this investigation?

O’Dell: Students can help by being aware of their surroundings, reporting suspicious behavior immediately, and paying close attention to police communications including crime alerts. Also continue to check our police website for case updates (www.police.umich.edu).

Seto: In off-campus neighborhoods, students can help by leaving the lights on outside their house or apartment doors, walking with a trusted friend whenever possible, keeping their apartment, house and vehicle doors locked at all times, and immediately reporting suspicious behavior.