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Off-campus student residences burglarized

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Off-campus students victimized by burglaries during Christmas break said they were not surprised by the events – just shocked they did not happen sooner. And some feared the crimes would increase already-inflamed tensions between Notre Dame students and the South Bend community.

“I was feeling like we were going to get broken into, even during Thanksgiving break [because of] the reputation of the area,” said senior Bill Kiolbasa, a neighbor of the 524 Corby St. residents whose house was vandalized during winter break.

Senior Stephen Muto – a resident of the 825 Washington St. home robbed during break – said though he was “upset” his house was broken into, he was “almost expecting” the crime.

“I was surprised that we weren’t broken into [last year],” he said. “I expected it to happen.”

Derek Gelcich, a senior who also lives at 825 Washington St., said he and his roommates were warned of potential crime in the area by previous home renters.

“We had talked to people who lived [here] last year, and talked to people at Washington Street about how they got robbed,” he said. “At some point we knew some houses would get robbed – we were just hoping it wasn’t ours.”

Senior John Noell, who lives with Muto and Gelrich, said he was “prepared” for such a break-in and was not surprised given the reputation of their 10-man residence.

“Our house is known as a student house and people know where it is and we figure it had a decent shot of getting broken into,” he said.

Students said their status as Notre Dame undergraduates caused them to be sitting ducks for criminals who knew no one would be inhabiting the homes for more than a month during winter break.

“The [intruders] know who we are and saw that our house was empty,” said senior Ray Jarosz, whose 524 Corby St. home was vandalized.

Off-campus president Matt Wormington, also a victim of the 825 Washington St. break-in, said there are “always” crimes in off-campus housing while students are home between semesters.

“Landlords, student government and probably parents, as well, have gone through the proper precautions with students, but if someone wants to break into a home they usually can, especially knowing that police forces are already quite busy and no one will be in the home for over a month,” he said.

Phil Johnson, associate director of Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) said criminals target student houses because they “know full well what [students’] schedules are.”

Turtle Creek Apartments representative Sarah Johnson said the company takes special precautions during the vulnerable time between semesters.

“[Our methods of security] have definitely been effective,” she said. “As far as I know, [other housing communities] have had more instances of theft and vandalism than us.”

Johnson said “to her knowledge” no thefts or vandalisms were reported in the housing units during winter break.

Turtle Creek has one courtesy staff member living on campus with a pager on him at all times who watches the property at night, Johnson said. Additionally, employees who live throughout the housing complex serve to thwart potential criminals.

Kramer Properties owner Mark Kramer, who rents out the 825 Washington St. and 821 E. Washington St. homes robbed during break, said he warns tenants each year of potential crimes during this “prime time” – even though he doesn’t usually experience this magnitude of crime at his residences.

“We send out a notice [for] tenants to call the police and set up a neighborhood watch [and] we urge them to leave the lights on and turn alarms on,” he said.

Kramer said after students leave, all houses are “checked” and those with activated alarms are turned on.

“We’re aware students are targeted over break and we try to be diligent and proactive in checking. They all have alarm systems but I don’t know if they’re actually hooked up,” he said.

Jarosz said when intruders entered and vandalized his Anlan Properties-owned home, police were not notified because the alarm system was disconnected.

“No signal was sent to the police, but the alarm’s motion detectors were tripped when they went into the basement,” he said. “This definitely stopped them from taking anything, because you don’t just break into a house and not take electronics, or something.”

Kramer encourages tenants to activate their alarm systems as they “prevent catastrophic damage and the loss of belongings” for an affordable price – less than $30 a year per person, he said.

“At 821, the alarm was on [and] not as much was taken,” he said. “I’ve been told [the residents of 825] refused to set up the alarm system … I don’t know why they wouldn’t.”

But Muto said he and his roommates called their alarm company “a million times” to activate their system.

“I blame [Safeguard Company],” he said. “We set up four or five appointments and they never came out.”

Noell said the company “messed around” with him and his fellow tenets.

“I think it’s a scam,” he said. “I wonder if [Kramer] affiliates himself with them. If you’re trying to be a good landlord, why would you affiliate yourself with a bad security company? Safeguard Company … is worthless to me. I’d rather get ADT.”

Kramer said he has used the same alarm company for years without difficulty.

An resident of 821 Washington St. who wished to remain anonymous said although the house was equipped with an alarm system, it was “apparently not triggered during the break-in.”

“We are frustrated the alarm did not go off,” he said. “A more secure and reliable security system would be appreciated, [but] I cannot hold our landlord liable for the criminal acts of others in this community.”

Wormington said he has heard “a lot” of negativity from students affected by the crimes – ill will that might place further stress on Notre Dame’s relationship with the South Bend community.

“A lot of students are upset because they feel their neighbors have been calling the police on them with noise complaints ad nauseam, but failed to notice that people were in their homes kicking down doors while they were supposed to be empty,” he said.

Muto said his neighbors “aren’t the biggest fans,” and would not call the police if their house were robbed.

Wormington said the neighbors should not be blamed from the crimes, but thinks the students’ response is “a reflection of the growing tensions between students and the community.”

“I hope students and neighbors can begin to see this issue from both sides and come to an understanding of one another,” he said. “[Student body president] Dave Baron and I still believe the developing dialogue between the two groups will serve to alleviate this tension – but it isn’t going to happen overnight.”