Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones announced at a press conference today that the city is now searching for one or two suspects as part of its investigation into six assaults against women since July 15, pledging to use all available resources to bring the offender or offenders into custody.
Jones — whose announcement follows a July 26 sexual assault where a woman was grabbed from behind and fondled on the 700 block of South State Street at about 11:30 p.m. while walking to her car — confirmed today the correlations in descriptions of the attackers have led AAPD to conclude the assaults were carried out by either one or two suspects.
He began the press conference, which was held at the Ann Arbor Police Department on East Huron Street, by expressing his appreciation for the community’s support and concern over the spate of assaults.
“I’m about to begin a conversation I believe no law enforcement officer would ever want to give his community,” he said. “We have a predator or predators operating in our community.”
Over the course of the 25 minute press conference, Jones reiterated that last sentence two or three times, as well as fielded questions from reporters and addressed topics like how budget cuts have impacted AAPD’s enforcement, the victims’ descriptions of the attackers and the increasing need for people to be cautious and pragmatic when walking alone at night.
In response to a query about whether the recent cutbacks on the force had hamstrung the department’s ability to investigate the assaults, Jones admitted the series of assaults has taken away “our sense of safety in our community.”
He denied, however, the cuts had any effect on the investigation, stood behind the police’s approach to finding the one or two attackers and lauded the force’s investigative partnerships with local agencies. He added that the force has devoted 15 officers to the recent assault cases as well.
“It’s still a great town and it is very upsetting, but we’re not in a vacuum here and … this is the type of occasion that we (the police) have to rise to the highest level,” Jones said.
In the ongoing search for suspects since the first assault — in which a woman was pulled into a dark area but then escaped near Community High School on Division Street on July 15 — the University’s Department of Public Safety has also “committed all its resources” to the investigation.
The department has been rearranging officers’ schedules and postponing their vacations in an effort to strengthen security on and around Central Campus, according to DPS Lt. Robert Neumann.
DPS released a statement this afternoon saying they will be working with AAPD to solve these cases even though they occurred off-campus. Additionally, both DPS and AAPD are amping up uniformed police patrol of Central Campus, the statement said.
Along with increased security measures, the department has undertaken efforts to encourage incoming freshmen to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings, to walk in pairs at night and to avoid talking on their cell phones when walking alone, Neumann said.
As part of its crime awareness program, DPS has also pledged to “talk about this string of incidents specifically” during freshmen orientation sessions, Neumann added.
In an interview after the press conference, City Council member Sabra Briere (D¬–Ward 1) said finding the attackers and educating students is important because the assaults have deprived the community of a sense of security.
“Crimes like this make us all insecure,” Briere said. “We stop walking around at night. We stop going to parties. We stop feeling like we can do what we want to do. It makes us all question our security.”
John Broad, president of Crime Stoppers of Michigan, said during the press conference Crime Stoppers of Michigan is offering a $1,000 reward for a tip that leads to an arrest, and that reward will be doubled if the tip comes in before midnight tonight.