By Leah Wilkinson
On Oct. 11, Grace Michels woke up in her dorm room and decided she wanted to get brunch. She opted to drive to UDH, but one thing held her back: she could not find her car.
Michels, a senior sociology and criminal justice studies major, soon discovered her car had been stolen from Bellarmine’s campus between 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 and 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 11.
Michels said she locked her doors, grabbed her keys and rolled up her windows.
“This student did all the right things,” said Debbie Fox, Bellarmine director of public safety. “Sometimes things happen, and I know that’s not good enough, and I’m really sorry that happened to Grace, and I think we in public safety can always do better — and not to say that we could have prevented that — but I think it’s an opportunity for us to always do better.”
Fox said she wants to remind people to take a second and look back when they get out of their cars.
“Sometimes you don’t think about that — you don’t think about making sure your items aren’t in plain sight and make sure you lock your doors,” Fox said.
Michels said she originally thought her car had been towed. She said she checked with the Office of Public Safety to be sure.
“I thought I was crazy, just walking around campus searching for my car,” Michels said.
Michels said she posted to social media upon discovering her car had been stolen. Although she said many have reached out to her showing support, she hasn’t received any information from students regarding the theft.
“[It was in] Petrik’s lot — it was a Saturday night — and it’s pretty high-trafficked,” Michels said. “I was just trying to put out feelers to see if anyone knew anything and had [seen] the time or location, model, make or license plate number.”
Fox said she wants the Bellarmine community to know the Office of Campus Safety is in place to provide help.
“We can always make sure we have more of a presence, and we need everybody’s help in making sure we are present and that we do take care of our students and take care of the Bellarmine community,” Fox said.
Fox said students should walk together at night and call the public safety office if they see something they believe is suspicious or would like a ride to their dorm.
“We just encourage people to tell us: If you see something, say something,” Fox said. “If you see something that’s not right, please call the office and say ‘Hey, this just didn’t feel right to me,’ and we’ll make sure we send somebody to check.”
Michels said she left her driver’s license and debit card in her car, realizing it only after she got to her dorm room. She said she didn’t grab them because her hands were full and decided she’d wait until the morning to go get them.
“[The debit card] was in the center console, so you couldn’t see it,” Michels said. “Yes, it’s my fault for leaving it in the car, but that can be recovered and a car can’t.”
Michels said she discovered someone used her card at several locations and hopes that will lead to some answers.
“That’s what I’ve been doing the last three days,” Michels said. “[I’ve been] trying to call the businesses to see if they have the information.”
This isn’t the first time Michels has dealt with a theft on campus.
“About a month ago, my Jeep was actually broken into,” Michels said. “It’s kind of f**king annoying — not gonna lie.”
Michels said someone stole a longboard and a skateboard. She said she reported the thefts to public safety.
“Obviously, I’m not a part of their office,” Michels said. “I’m just speaking as someone who this has affected and I don’t know what their inner workings are and if they’ve looked at [getting cameras] and are trying to increase precautions or not.”
Fox said Bellarmine is looking to add cameras on campus.
“We’re working as hard as we can to get the resources necessary to make sure we have the cameras where we can see what’s going on,” Fox said. “Even though we’re a small campus, there are a lot of areas we need to pay attention to and we need to have a presence at and just have situational awareness.”
Kyle Rieber, assistant director of public safety, said the overall design of Bellarmine’s campus often makes it difficult to see camera footage, as many of the cameras are blocked by foliage.
“Prior to [the car theft] we did a survey with the lights and went out and checked the lighting and we also surveyed our camera coverage to make sure we didn’t have any blind spots,” Rieber said. “A lot of times we’ll get blind spots because of our trees and the way some of our buildings are.”
Fox said the public safety office is working with facilities to get some of the trees trimmed.
“The trees are wonderful, but they’re really not conducive to having those cameras set up in order to capture and be proactive in our pursuit of making sure the campus stays safe,” she said.
Rieber said there is a focus on getting the additional cameras installed soon and said the hope is the cameras will be able to capture even more hidden areas.
“We’re actually in the process of adding more now,” Rieber said. “The purpose is to cover everything and get all the angles and make sure we don’t have any more hideaway spots.”
Rieber said the goal is to see who’s on campus, both during daylight and after dark.
“We’re changing a lot of [the obstructed] cameras around, adding some cameras to try to get as much coverage [as possible],” Rieber said. “The idea is to get the coverage of people coming on campus so we know who’s coming on campus and we can track them, and we’re also going to add some cameras inside buildings, but we wanted to start with the outside perimeter first.”
Fox said this chart accounts only for thefts occurring before Oct. 15, and on-campus thefts are lower than she expected. The lower numbers could also correlate with COVID-19 and campus being closed for about two months at the end of spring 2020, as well as there being fewer people on campus in fall 2020.
Chart courtesy of Bellarmine’s Office of Public Safety.
“I kind of thought we had more of a significant rise in crime than we did,” Fox said.
Fox said bicycle thefts are fairly common on campus.
“We had that first bicycle theft that occurred here in June, and then we had three more bicycle thefts,” Fox said. “One happened on Aug. 31, and two more occurred in September.”
Fox said she credits something called a U-lock with the recent halt in bike thefts.
“We encourage people to register their bikes [with the Office of Public Safety] and to bring them inside, and commuters to register their bikes with us, and then to utilize a U-lock in order to keep your bike safe,” Fox said. She said she believes the Office of Public Safety’s recommendations have been effective, as there have not been any on-campus bike thefts since September.
Fox said Metrosafe recently notified her of thefts of cars and smaller items just across Newburg Road at Nazareth Home and Our Lady of Peace.
Fox said she believes the smaller number of thefts at Bellarmine might be due to the work of the Office of Public Safety.
“I guess it’s because we have a presence,” Fox said. “Hopefully that’s it.”
Michels said she usually feels safe on campus.
“Bellarmine kind of has a reputation of being a pretty safe campus, and it’s not like I don’t feel safe on campus anymore because that’s just kind of the environment of the school,” Michels said.
Despite her sense of optimism for Bellarmine’s safety, Michels said she’s coming to terms with not seeing her car again.
“It’s weird to have emotional attachments to items sometimes, but this car, Disco Mike was his name, he’s like almost older than I am,” Michels said. “My family’s had him for a while and my brother and I share him, and I feel bad for how it’s going to affect him because we were both going to have internships next semester and now we don’t have any way to do that.”
Fox said she hopes the university can learn from this and prevent thefts in the future.
“I think we need to learn from this and do better, and we need to see what improvements we can make in order to attempt to prevent this from happening again,” Fox said.
Anyone with information regarding the theft of Michels’ car should contact Bellarmine’s Office of Public Safety at 502.272.7777. The vehicle is a gray 2001 Jeep Cherokee with Kentucky license plate 1735FZ. There is a black and white “BU” bumper sticker on the right rear of the car.
Layla Colakovic also contributed to this story.
Leah Wilkinson is a suitemate of Grace Michels.