Thieves target students

? A rash of recent burglaries – many targeting students – have local police and UVM officials on high alert. ?             The Burlington Police Department (BPD) responded to more than 400 burglaries last year alone, a significant increase from the 250 calls they normally receive per year, according to a report by the Burlington Free Press. ? Local break-ins have doubled since the New Year with over 60 reported incidents, Burlington Police Deputy Chief Andi Higdee said. ? “That’s a pretty substantial number,” Higdee said. “Since October we’ve made 18 arrests for burglary or possession of stolen property. We rely now on the courts to hold them responsible.” ? Though break-ins have occurred across the map and general patterns are hard to predict, some areas in Burlington are more likely to attract crooks, he said. ? The highly student-populated “hill section” yields substantial foot traffic as students travel to and from the University, which provides a good opportunity for burglars to blend in, Higdee said.   ? “They target Union Street to the east, but keep in mind that it’s everywhere,” he said, adding that the high number of incidents is nothing new because this area has been a hotbed for break-ins ever since students started living off campus. ?   “There’s no doubt that students have been targeted during the streaks,” Higdee said. “These crooks know when school break is, they know when apartments are empty. In most cases, these people have done it before and have criminal histories – they’re desperate.” ? One reason for the rise in crime can be attributed to the rise of opiate use in Burlington and greater Vermont, which may compel addicts to burglarize homes for electronics, jewelry and other such valuables that can be quickly resold and flipped for cash, Higdee said. ?             Another driving factor in the elevated burglary numbers has been the unusually mild winter. ?             Traditionally a season marked by a decrease in call volume, this winter has proved just the opposite for the BPD.   ? The warm weather is a convenience for enterprising crooks that are now able to stay out on the streets longer and are more mobile because there is no thick covering of snow to slow them up, Higdee said. ? ? Gail Shampnois, director of student and community relations, runs workshops designed to aid students in their transition to off-campus living by providing tips on keeping safe in the community. ? While an assessment of the safety of a prospective apartment may not be a top priority for some students, Shampnois said that it is important to evaluate a living arrangement on more than surface looks and monthly rent. ? “It’s a good idea to drive back at night when looking at apartments,” Shampnois said. “How does it feel? Look at the lighting. If the locks are insufficient, ask the landlord for lock-chains.” ? Shampnois reiterated that students were being targeted in the recent wave of burglaries, but said that it is important to always remain vigilant because students have long been a general target for any crook who wants fast access to electronic gadgets like computers, iPods, TVs and digital cameras. ? “I’d say it’s what the students have that is appealing to the burglars,” said Shampnois, adding that the lifestyle of a student can be a contributing factor in whether they become victims of burglary. ? For Shampnois, UVM’s growing population – enrollment has increased by 3,000 students in the past 10 years – means that more people are living off-campus and are thus more susceptible to break-ins. ? She said she hopes the newly constructed Redstone Lofts will alleviate some of the student apartment sprawl in Burlington when they become available for lease next fall.                     Shampnois partners with UVM police officer Sue Roberts, who is trained in crime prevention and assists students in developing strategies to combat break-ins beyond the basic locking of doors. ?             Some strategies Roberts suggests are installing deadbolts in place of the more basic doorknob locks, having good drapes that block visibility from the outside to prevent crooks from “window-shopping,” and keeping an inventory of property serial numbers so the police are better equipped to investigate and eventually recover the stolen property. ?              Students with a tendency to leave their apartments looking “trashed” may also be at a greater risk for burglary, as street onlookers may assume that there is a lack of ownership pride and may be more comfortable breaking into the residence, Roberts said. ?             “When people take care of their place, the burglars know it,” Roberts said. “They look for easy targets.” ? Roberts advised victims of theft to report the incidents and continue communicating with police by reporting suspicious events. ?  “A lot of people don’t tend to report it,” she said. “If they’re not reporting to the police, BPD doesn’t have the correct data and can’t help. Sometimes students just don’t want to deal with them.” ? Though locking doors is fairly standard practice, making sure that apartment windows are secure is less obvious and was a hard lesson learned for senior Rachel Bakerian, a three-year resident of Isham Street, whose apartment was broken into several years ago. ? Burglars entered Bakerian’s ground floor apartment through access to her bedroom window, which was open when she returned. Her backpack and camera were stolen, along with her roommate’s computer and laundry quarters. ? Though she filed a police report, none of the property was recovered nor were any of the burglars apprehended. ? “Ever since then I have locked everything,” Bakerian said, now living in nearby South Duxbury, Vt. “We were totally being watched. They popped in when my roommate left for one hour.” ? The BPD has dedicated resources to combat the recent spike in burglaries, including increased patrol presence, more communication with the court system and processing fingerprint evidence to link crimes to individuals. ?             Yet Deputy Chief Higdee was dismayed that the Department of Corrections and the courts aren’t holding up their weight, citing budget cuts as part of the reason. ? He said that too often those involved in serious criminal offenses walk free in the community while on probation or pretrial conditions of release. ? “The burglaries have started to slow down,” Higdee said. “Hopefully the message has gotten out that we have devoted a lot of resources. ? “We expect that the court system will hold up their end,” he said.