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Police, Kramer plan city watch program

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, February 23, 2006

In anticipation of student houses emptying for spring break – and in light of burglaries that occurred over winter break – Kramer Properties owner Mark Kramer and representatives from the South Bend Police Department held an information session Wednesday to advise off-campus students of safety measures and to discuss the initiation of a student neighborhood watch program.

Despite this goal, no off-campus students attended the meeting. Two representatives from Student Senate’s Committee for Community Relations were on hand to relay the information to the student body.

Kramer was disappointed more people did not attend the meeting but encouraged off-campus students to call the police department and join the student neighborhood watch program.

“I think it’s very important that they get involved,” Kramer said. “We can all do our part, both as landlords and as tenants, to get involved to curtail this activity, and problems will be solved.”

Sergeant Lee D. Ross and Corporal Patrick Hechlinski of the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) introduced the student neighborhood watch at the talk held at Perley Elementary School in South Bend.

The student version of the neighborhood watch program, modeled after a current program serving about 20,000 people in the South Bend area, uses citizen vigilance to deter crime.

Unlike the community neighborhood watch program, which designates “block captains” to serve as intermediaries between the police department and the general public, SBPD said it will directly contact all students in the program to inform them of crimes committed in their neighborhood. When students know what crimes are taking place, they can take the necessary precautions to avoid becoming a victim, Hechlinski said.

“The key is … to get this information out into the neighborhood there and to let everybody know what’s happening,” he said.

Ross and Hechlinski encouraged students to submit their phone numbers and addresses to the police department to be added to the calling list.

“The nice thing about having the police department call you when something happens is you know that the information that we’re giving you is the facts and it’s coming right off the police report,” Hechlinski said.

When students get information directly from the police – rather than through word of mouth or other sources – there is less confusion about occurrences in the neighborhood, he said.

Sergeant Ross advised off-campus students to safeguard their homes against burglars, especially during the upcoming weeklong spring break. Ross recommended residents use timers for lights, ask a neighbor to clear snow from the sidewalk and lock all windows and doors.

Kramer and SBPD officers said students should ask the police to watch their houses while on vacation as a free service provided by the department. Ross said with morning, afternoon and evening patrols, one house may get three to six visits in a day.

Kramer, who rents more than 60 houses in the South Bend area, is working with the police department to ensure the security of his rentals after two were burglarized over winter break. Kramer recommended residents make their absences less obvious to potential burglars by minimizing “tell-tale signs” the house is rented by students – beer cans and plastic cups in the yard and leftover kegs.

“Folks know when they are student houses,” Kramer said. “You’re going to be targeted.”

If students see suspicious activity or are the victim of a crime, they should not hesitate to call the SBPD, Hechlinski said. He said the biggest obstacle for the police is getting citizens to report crimes or suspicions.

“We’d rather come out and find out … there’s no harm as opposed to coming out later on and finding out you got burglarized,” Hechlinski said.

The department stepped up police presence and went door-to-door to encourage people to be alert after 12 “one-on-one robberies” against students and professors occurred between Dec. 27 and Jan. 27. Since then, there have been no further reported student robberies in the area.