It was a foggy morning when UW Tacoma campus officers and Tacoma Police responded to a witness’ report of a burglary at Metro Coffee on Nov. 5. Among the stolen goods from the shop included food and an expensive card reader. Currently, they have only been able to accept payment in cash with the loss of their equipment.
“It’s disheartening being broken into as a small business,” said Diana Stewart, assistant manager at Metro Coffee. “It’s just upsetting. It feels kind of violating when someone gets up in your space like that.”
The burglary at Metro Coffee is the first burglary of the school year, but there have been several other cases of property crimes. Property crimes are the most reported type of crime around UWT this quarter so far. There have been a combined 12 crimes related to robberies, burglaries, thefts, attempted thefts, stolen vehicles and vehicle prowls on and around the UWT campus since Sep. 25, with half of those from vehicle prowls alone.
UWT Campus Security Sergeant Robert Whitfield explained that vehicle prowls have always been a problem for as long as he has worked here, and that they are not just a UWT problem.
“Vehicle prowls are pretty much a constant in the downtown area in general,” Whitfield said. “That is probably our number one thing that’s happening here that is just a nuisance to us. The main thing about the vehicle prowls is most of the time it is crimes of opportunity that happens. We always tell folks no matter how insignificant you think whatever you leave on your seat in the vehicle is, don’t leave it there. Someone who’s prowling vehicles, that’s the first thing they look for.”
Whitfield also stated that this time of year typically sees an increase in vehicle prowls due to the amount of gifts being purchased for the holiday season. However, thieves have picked car doors and broken windows for simpler things, like gym bags and clothes.
UWT employs 11 officers and two sergeants who patrol the campus — from 17th to 21st Streets and from Pacific to Tacoma Avenues — and work closely with the Tacoma Police Department. Whitfield has been a part of the campus for the past 24 years, first working as contracted security before becoming a fulltime employee for UWT in 1999.
Despite the persistent nature of vehicle prowls, Whitfield said that the area has become safer over the years.
“I will say that over the years I have been here, it has become so much safer downtown,” Whitfield said. “The crime levels are lower. One thing [is] because of the improvements made to the downtown area in the 20 years I have been here … A lot of things on this end of town were basically just ruins — crime-infested areas. [UWT] moved into here. The [Greater Tacoma] Convention Center moved in. Restaurants have moved in. We’ve had different services that started downtown here. The parking enforcement folks that do the general area parking, they provide presence also out here.”
According to the 2019 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, there was an overall decrease in major crimes around campus during 2018, at only six criminal offenses compared to 2017’s 15 criminal offenses. Crimes such as murder, sex offenses, robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, stalking and domestic and dating violences all fall under criminal offenses on the annual report.
There was also a reduction in disciplinary actions taken for liquor and drug law violations in Court 17, from 20 violations in 2017 down to 13.
As for Metro Coffee, Stewart has said that the community’s response has been overwhelmingly supportive for them.
“We really appreciate the reaction from everybody on campus, because the students and the faculty have all been really great,” Stewart said. “They set up a GoFundMe for us. Everyone has been really understanding about us not having a card reader for the time being and going to get cash for us and making donations. It makes us feel very loved.”
Regarding the thief, Stewart had this to say about them:
“I hope they feel stupid for taking a card reader they can do nothing with.”