Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2001
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McGruff the crime dog Employees catch theft suspect

By Matt Kelly

The University Police Department recently honored six U.Va. Health System employees for their fast thinking when they detained a woman who was later charged with theft and fraud.

University Police spokeswoman Melissa Fielding said the arrest of Gerlene Scott, 19, may clear up between 12 and 20 reported cases of theft around the Medical Center. Scott, of Cartersville, was charged with two felony counts of credit card fraud and two counts of misdemeanor credit card theft. Other charges may be pending.According to Fielding, Scott made a voluntary statement to police on Nov. 13 admitting to multiple thefts, and some physical evidence was taken from her.

Scott, who has no affiliation with the University, is accused of taking two credit cards from one Medical Center employee and using them in area stores to purchase gasoline and unspecified automobile parts. The fraud charges, which will be prosecuted in Albemarle County, are felonies because the purchases exceeded $1,000. Charlottesville will prosecute the misdemeanor thefts, since they happened in that jurisdiction.

The McLeod Hall employees said they were suspicious of Scott because she seemed to be wandering around the building and matched the description of a person seen in the area of previous thefts.

“They just got a feeling,” said Fielding. “She seemed to have no official business there. There had been the warnings, and she was seen on multiple levels.”

Assistant nursing professors Suzanne Burns and Juanita Reigle diverted Scott, talking with her about the nursing shortage and asking if she were interested in a career in nursing, while staff member Janice Martin called 911, according to Fielding. Associate nursing professor Arlene Keeling stood watch outside the room while waiting for police, and grants administrator Marianne Lampert kept Scott under surveillance. Facilities coordinator Becky Bowers, who was instrumental in establishing a protocol for handling suspicious people in the building, was the first to be suspicious of Scott and kept her in sight as the others got involved, Fielding said.

University Police arrived on the scene after Scott was first observed, and Scott agreed to voluntarily accompany them to police headquarters, Fielding said.

2000 Crime Statistics2
Burglary 12
Motor vehicle theft 6
Reported by U.Va. PoliceReported by U.Va. Police (includes attempts) attempts)

The arrest came one day before Fielding met with McLeod Hall employees to discuss safety and security in the wake of a series of thefts from the Medical Center complex, mostly of purses and wallets taken from offices and labs. The thief was apparently wandering at will through the Medical Center, according to Fielding, and though people had seen someone who did not appear to belong, they did not remark on it until after the thefts were reported.

“We were going to talk to the McLeod staff on how to secure the building,” Fielding said. “The police are only as successful as the community allows them to be. We need extra eyes and ears out there.”

The action of the staff members was recognized at the meeting, where several of them were presented with certificates and mugs.

Fielding said employees should challenge people who appear in their area without apparent authorization. She said greeting them, asking to be of assistance, asking who they are looking for may be enough to prevent a theft. If employees are not comfortable confronting an apparent intruder, she said they should keep the person in sight, get a description and, if the person leaves, determine their direction of travel. Obtain an automobile license plate number, if possible.

File cabinets and desk drawers are most common places to leave purses and wallets and thieves know this, said Fielding, who suggested file and desk drawers containing valuables be locked.

Vandalism and theft from automobiles have been the most common complaints from the academic side of the Grounds, according to Fielding, who said people should lock valuables out of sight in the trunk. Just because someone has been arrested, Fielding warned McLeod employees, there is no reason for them to let down their guard.

People should also be aware of cars traveling at night without lights, the sound of breaking glass and people in inappropriate places, Fielding said, advising people to call 911 for anything suspicious. The dispatcher will determine which police department to contact.

“We would rather be called and not needed, than not called and be needed,” Fielding said.



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