More calling for Green Coats with voyeur on the loose

Sean Highley, a Western Washington University sophomore who works as a “Green Coat” safety escort, is shown on campus last week.
Sean Highley, a Western Washington University sophomore who works as a “Green Coat” safety escort, is shown on campus last week. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

As a rash of voyeurism and lewd conduct incidents continue at Western Washington University and surrounding neighborhoods, more people on campus are using the “Green Coats” public safety assistants, officials said.

University police and other officials are urging students and staff to remain vigilant and take other safety measures until there’s an arrest in the more than two dozen related cases dating to early 2017. Bellingham Police have said all the incidents are linked to one man.

In addition, Western Police have taken a closer look at security measures campus-wide.

“We take all of these reports seriously,” WWU Police Chief Darin Rasmussen said recently. “That’s not just driving casually by. We have people in cars and on foot in different areas of campus. Our student public safety assistants provide an extra set of eyes and ears.”

Rasmussen discussed campus security in general terms Nov. 15, the day after a student walking near Wilson Library reported that a man rushed from behind and grabbed her breasts. That followed a Nov. 6 incident when a student walking in the Fairhaven/Happy Valley neighborhood saw a man masturbating in a parked car.

Neither of those incidents have been positively linked to the man who’s been peeping into windows or masturbating in public in the Sehome and York neighborhoods surrounding campus. But they couldn’t be ruled out either, authorities said.

Help us capture this guy. The sooner that we do, the better it is for all of us.

WWU Police Chief Darin Rasmussen

Two other incidents were reported on campus recently, including a man in the shower Oct. 29 at Ridgeway Kappa residence hall and a man who exposed himself to two women at the Ridgeway Gamma dorm on Oct. 27.

Rasmussen said he and his sergeant were conducting a security assessment of “The Ridge” dormitory complex where those incidents occurred. In addition, he said he has met with student groups to discuss safety.

“We wanted to look at lighting and different environmental factors,” Rasmussen said. He advised students and staff to use well-lighted routes across campus and to use the buddy system or call for a Green Coat escort.

“Look out for each other,” Rasmussen advised.

“If you see something suspicious, call us. It’s an absolute call to 911. Pay attention to your surroundings. Use better-lighted routes. It’s definitely worth the extra time. Walk with a partner,” the chief said.

“Help us capture this guy. The sooner that we do, the better it is for all of us,” Rasmussen added.

Voyeurs or peeping toms often are very difficult to catch.

Paul Cocke, director of WWU communications and marketing

Paul Cocke, director of university communications and marketing, said students and staff seem to be taking security more seriously with the voyeur on the loose.

Cocke said that in 2016, there were 151 calls for personal safety escorts. Through mid-November 2017, there have been 151 total calls for personal safety escorts.

“So yes, the number of requests is up this year over last,” Cocke said.

For the month of October 2017 there were 37 calls for service for safety escorts on campus, Cocke said. So far this month – as of Wednesday – there have been 28 calls for service for safety escorts on campus.

Cocke said the term “Green Coat” is a colloquialism for the university’s public safety assistants who are identified by the forest green jackets they wear with the words PUBLIC SAFETY in yellow letters across the back. They carry two-way radios to stay in contact with university dispatchers.

Green Coat Alec Regimbal said the job connects him to the campus community.

“It’s nice to be appreciated by the students for performing a safety escort,” Regimbal said. “Students often say ‘You make me feel safer, thank you for being here.’ ”

Green Coats are available during evening hours to escort students, faculty and staff or the general public on campus. This service is available by calling University Police at 360-650-3555.

“The safety of Western’s students, faculty, staff and visitors is our top priority,” Cocke said. “University Police and Bellingham Police are working very hard to catch the suspect or suspects doing these horrible things.”

Cocke said when a crime or serious incident occurs on or near campus, the university issues text message alerts, followed by a detailed email. Western’s social media channels and posters are focusing on crime prevention information, including personal safety tips.

“Voyeurs or peeping toms often are very difficult to catch,” Cocke said. “They rarely leave any evidence and often leave very quickly, before police arrive at an incident scene.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

Green Coats

Green Coats are paid student employees, and both men and women serve. This service is available to anyone on campus by calling University Police at 360-650-3555.

Interested in being a Green Coat? Here’s how:

▪  After submitting an application, candidates face an oral board interview.

▪  Applicants undergo a criminal background investigation and the university conducts a general background investigation.

▪  New employees have 5 to 8 days with a field training officer covering all aspects of university safety.

▪  Must possess a high amount of integrity, work well with minimal supervision, have strong interpersonal skills and have good written and verbal communication skills.

▪  Other duties include letting people into academic and residence buildings and rooms; reporting of security and maintenance problems; reporting of suspicious activity; reporting of criminal activity; and assisting motorists.

Source: Western Washington University

Related stories from Bellingham Herald