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A bout of vandalism and theft in a Penn parking lot last week has led to questions among students about whether the University is taking sufficient steps to protect private property.

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, five cars parked in Penn Lot 26, located at 32nd and Walnut Streets, were broken into and vandalized. The incidents occurred after the men’s basketball game against La Salle earlier that evening — leading some to believe that they may have been connected to the game because the lot is open to the public during athletic events.

“Sometimes people drink — there’s broken beer bottles and stuff,” said Liberal and Professional Studies student Jake Wong, who lost hundreds of dollars worth of electronics that were hidden in the armrest of his car after vandals smashed through his passenger-side window. “When there’s a game, some of the kids from other schools, they get really rowdy,” he said.

The damage to Wong’s car and loss of personal property was valued at $3,000, he said, but his insurance will only cover the broken window (and possibly his torn seats) beyond his $500 deductible.

Division of Public Safety spokeswoman Stef Cella wrote in an e-mail that DPS believes all of the thefts occurred at the same time, though the specific time is not known. She added that Penn Police were able to obtain latent finger prints from one of the vehicles that was broken into and is working with the Philadelphia Police Department Identification Unit. The case remains open.

Cella emphasized that members of the community should not leave valuables visible in their vehicles to avoid becoming a target. But Wong, whose valuables were hidden away, was still a victim.

Barbara Lea-Kruger, spokeswoman for Business Services — which oversees Penn’s parking lots — said security has been increased in the lot as a result of the vandalism and thefts.

On a normal weekday, lot security consists of cameras at the entrance and exit, five emergency blue light phones and signs from DPS encouraging parkers to conceal their valuables. Access is restricted to people whose PennCards are on a registered list of permit holders.

However, it is relatively easy to walk through the gate that opens for cars. The gate stays open for about 20 seconds after a car enters the lot. An e-mail from Business Services to Lot 26 permit holders said that cycle time has been reduced. The lot is also patrolled on a regular basis, but is often empty of security personnel.

On game nights, Lea-Kruger said, the lot is open to “transient,” or non-permit-holding, parkers. The lot is staffed with attendants who collect payment when they enter, and there are more supervisors and security staff in the lot. Four hours after the game begins, the lot reverts to normal evening security.

But some say these precautions are not enough. Another student whose new car was broken into last week sent an e-mail to the Lot 26 listserv noteing a urine smell in the stairs and poor lighting in some areas of the garage. She, too, has seen drunk people in the garage late at night after games, but said when she mentioned her concerns in the annual parking survey, conditions did not improve.

But Lea-Kruger insists her office closely monitors and responds to complaints. “We know that there is sometimes tailgating in our lots, so that’s why we have increased security. When people report complaints like a smell or complaints or trash or anything like that we respond to them, we take care of them as fast as we can,” she said. She added that Business Services has added increased patrols to the lot after last week’s incidents. During last night’s men’s basketball game against Saint Joseph’s University, there were two guards stationed at the entrance.

Lea-Kruger says there is no correlation between athletic events and incidents in the garage. In fact, the Business Services e-mail to permit holders said the break-ins were the first in over a year for Penn’s 25 parking lots. DPS was unable to provide data to a last-minute request on a history of theft at the lots by press time.

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