Sherrie Jacobs, chief witness for the prosecution, sat quietly in the front row of the courtroom, hands folded, with a small manila folder containing devastating evidence sitting in her lap.
Abrey Willis, the accused, is alleged to have stolen two laptops, a palm pilot and a customized backpack from a classroom in the Crane Liberal Arts and Science building during United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) week at Washtenaw Community College, and prosecutors were confident that what Jacob held on her lap would make their case a virtual slam-dunk.
Jacobs, the lead dispatcher for WCC’s Campus Safety and Security (CSS), held still photos taken from video surveillance footage showing the alleged suspect leaving the building carrying what UA guest trainer Kevin Carlisle told the court was his backpack containing irreplaceable material from a decade’s worth of work.
The backpack was easily identifiable because of its very distinctive corporate markings. The video evidence clearly identified the suspect’s face and showed him carrying the backpack in question.
This is an example of why the college has spent tens of thousands of dollars on a video security system that includes more than 120 cameras, six state-of-the-art digital monitors, digital recorders and more, which helps keep students, faculty and staff safer on this 292-acre campus.
New cameras are being added to the system as renovations are made to the infrastructure, said CSS Director Ron Schebil.
The Willis case is one of many such success stories. On Feb. 11, CSS was notified of an individual acting suspicious in parking Lot 4. Closed-circuit surveillance of the individual revealed that he was, in fact, attempting to break into cars. As a result of the surveillance, the individual, Darold Ryan, a non-student in his early 20’s, pleaded guilty to larceny from a vehicle. He was sentenced to probation.
While the cameras around campus can have that kind of impact, they do not see everything. For instance, on Feb. 17, a 32-year-old WCC student from Northville was assaulted and stabbed as a result of a road-rage confrontation that began on US-23 and spilled over to the campus. Action in that case is still pending, but video surveillance could not pinpoint any significant suspects in that case.
Additionally, there are hit-and-run accidents, larcenies, assaults and acts of vandalism that have been reported but remain unresolved, in part, because no definitive surveillance footage exists.
Nevertheless, college officials are satisfied with a state-of-the-art system they are constantly improving and expanding.
“Any amount of security will add to (students) own personal security,” Schebil said. “Whether we’re there physically or electronically, it will enhance our ability to patrol the campus.
“I think we are doing OK. Other colleges and universities are trying to get where we are. Our security surveillance system surpasses that of other schools in the area; both Eastern Michigan and the University of Michigan are beefing up their systems to equal that of WCC.”
Meanwhile, the case against Willis has been adjourned until Dec. 3 to allow prosecutors time to present additional witness testimony.
Carlisle, however, was still shaken by his loss in that theft.
“(Willis) took stuff that was irreplaceable, 10-years worth of customer contacts and business memos that I had not backed up,” Carlisle said.