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Break-ins on rise in county

Joseph McMahon | Thursday, October 2, 2008

Residential burglaries are becoming a more common problem in South Bend, South Bend Police Department (SBPD) spokesman Capt. Phil Trent said, and students living off campus are feeling the effects of the jump in the crime rate.

Trent said residential burglaries have increased 27 percent since January, but the burglars are hitting a wide variety of targets and not focusing solely on students. He said SBPD would be increasing its patrols.

“We’re up in burglaries, but it’s nothing one could say that this all happened when the Notre Dame people came back,” Trent said. “There’s been no [special] increase in break-ins at student houses.”

St. Joseph’s County Police Sgt. William Redman agreed with Trent, adding that all of St. Joseph’s County has seen an increase in break-ins and burglaries recently.

“The last month or two, burglaries in St. Joseph County seem to be on the rise as well,” Redman said. “This is widespread throughout the entire county, and I know there have been some areas near the University that have been broken into also.”

Students have been feeling the collateral effects of the increase in crime, with burglars targeting not only their homes, but their cars as well. Seniors Mark Langhans and Daniel Castellanos, who live on the 200-block of N. St. Louis Blvd., said they have been the victims of nine separate incidents, eight involving items stolen from their cars and one involving a burglar breaking in through the first floor window to steal a laptop.

“Most of the times [the burglars were] just someone breaking into a car, usually just by opening the door – my roommates leave their cars unlocked and empty so that their windows don’t get broken, which happened at the beginning of the year – and rummaging around for something,” Castellanos said.

Langhans said he and his roommates have had a variety of items stolen from them, ranging from a laptop computer to an empty backpack to $1.75 in change.

“There’s no peace of mind,” he said “You’re worried about stuff being stolen all the time, and I feel like you really shouldn’t have to worry about that.”

Langhans had his laptop stolen sometime last Saturday between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8 p.m. – the first time someone had actually broken-into his house.

“The scary part of it was, in order to see the laptop, they had to have been up against the window,” he said. “It’s obvious that they’re coming up and peeking in our house while we’re sleeping.”

Langhans lives in a house located across the street from the 700-block of E. Colfax Ave, where 20 hours after the burglary took place, police arrested 37 for alcohol-related charges.

“[The burglary] happened 20 or so hours before the party was broken up,” Trent said.

Langhans said he was disappointed that the rate of residential burglaries has risen, but to him, it seems as though police are more focused on preventing underage drinking.

“You know that they’re targeting students, and you wish that they would step up patrols,” he said. “The thing that makes you really mad is when you see [the headline] of 37 arrests for underage drinking because they were able to mobilize all these elite police forces, while, at the same time, our house can be broken into.”

Mark Kramer of Kramer Properties, who owns the N. St Louis Blvd. property in addition to about 200 other housing units throughout South Bend, said he also thinks the police needed to readjust their priorities.

“I think the police need to concentrate their efforts more so on the real crimes in the community and the crimes towards the students and a little less about parties inside homes,” he said.

Kramer said he has had one other break-in at a home this year, but has heard dozens of complaints from students about cars being broken-into. After the first home break-in earlier this semester, Kramer doubled his security force which checks on each of his properties nightly.

“We’ve had two house break-ins, which is two too many. But if you look at the ratio between two houses being broken into and 200 total units, it’s pretty low,” Kramer said. “When we had [the first break-in], I doubled my patrols.”

Senior Catie Peters, who declined to give her address but said she lives “near Club 23,” said her home was entered in broad daylight several weeks ago and her laptop and some of her roommate’s jewelry were taken. But Peters said after she attended a safety talk at LaFortune for off-campus students given by Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) and SBPD, she understood that the police officers care much more about student safety than underage drinking.

“It was a very good event to have because it [became] very obvious that the police officers did not care that much about busting parties,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense that police officers would care about student getting busted for underage drinking above their safety…. It kind of frustrates me that students are not seeing this from a holistic point of view.”

Peters said she blamed students’ prejudice against the local police force on the University’s failure to embrace the South Bend community.

“I think a lot of the problem comes from Notre Dame’s failure to integrate into the community,” she said. “Notre Dame is not a bubble, as much as it tries to pretend that it is.”

Student Senate Community Relations committee chair Gus Gari said students must be aware that, when they enter the South Bend community, they need to be vigilant.

“Like [South Bend Police Chief Darryl Boykins] told us, it’s really easy money for [burglars] if students aren’t smart enough to practice crime prevention,” he said.

Senior Michael Benz, who lives on the 900-block of South Bend Ave., said a laptop was recently stolen from his house due to his and his roommates’ failure to practice crime prevention.

“Our burglary happened right under our noses,” Benz said. “We let two people off the street play beer pong with us for a minute. They left and broke through the air conditioner in my housemate’s first floor room and stole his computer and bolted.”

Unfortunately, Trent said many students do not realize the importance of crime prevention until after they have been burglarized. For example, Trent said few students attended a recent safety seminar organized by SBPD and NDSP.

“There are students who are affected and they are very upset, but when we call these public meetings [with University officials] there has been a very dismal showing from the student population,” he said.

After such a negative experience, Kramer said students often leave South Bend after graduation from Notre Dame, resulting in a “brain drain.”

“The talk about ‘brain drain’ in the South Bend community and they would like to see students stick around,” Kramer said. “Well, what motivation do you have after you’ve been treated the way you’ve been treated?”

Langhans said while he still enjoys living off-campus and being a member of the South Bend community, his recent experiences with crime have jaded his view of the town.

“There’s a lot of cool parts of South Bend that you get to know being off-campus, but it’s hard to look to the bright side of South Bend with what we’ve had to deal with,” he said. “You want to find the good in it, but it becomes increasingly difficult the more you are taken advantage of.”