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Recent burglaries, home invasions plague off-campus students

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Friday night, a burglar entered a student residence on N. St. Peter St. through an unsecured window.

The burglar left with several laptops, iPods, game stations and cash.

He or she also found car keys to a black SUV and drove away with the car, which belonged to one of the home’s residents.

This robbery was the sixth to student residences in only four months. In those four months, there have also been two home invasions and four student robberies, according to reports from the South Bend Police Department (SBPD).

In another recent case, a burglar forced an off-campus student to drive at gunpoint to different ATMs around the city and withdraw cash.

The student said he was mugged twice before — once in Chicago and once on Napoleon St. near campus.

“If there is anything that I take away from this robbery and previous muggings, it is that I need to stop being outside at like 4 a.m., which is roughly when each of these unfortunate incidents has occurred,” he said.

The robber approached the student around 4 a.m. Sept. 27 at a Speedway gas station on the 2100 block of South Bend Avenue. He told the student he had a gun, and he forced the student to drive him to two different ATMs in downtown South Bend to withdraw cash, according to police reports.

The student drove the man to several houses after he withdrew the money, police said. The student told police he was afraid to drive away each time the man got out of the car, but he eventually sped away from the robber when he walked far enough away from the vehicle.

The student returned to his home and called police.

Police arrested a suspect in the case, but he was later released. The Observer will not name the student because he was the victim of a crime.

“I have lived off-campus now since mid-June, and while I never consciously feel unsafe, I recognize that I have to be more careful now than I have been the past three years,” he said. “As for my experience off-campus, my roommates and I are still trying to get a feel for how safe our neighborhood is. My roommate had a car window smashed about a month ago and had his iPod and XBox stolen … The people two houses away from us, all grad students, were sitting on their porch one day when two guys with guns made them go inside and give them their laptops.”

Off-campus president Tess Fitzpatrick said these crimes demonstrate the need for more vigilance in students who live off campus.

“One of the main issues has been during football games, people leave their doors unlocked or their windows unlocked, and it’s very accessible for people to come in,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s usually the case for these robberies … You aren’t living on campus anymore. You can’t just leave your door unlocked.”

Fitzpatrick said the SBPD has interacted more with students this year, trying to give them more tips about how to protect themselves and their property.

“In your car, for instance, [they said] not to leave valuable objects out to be seen, so if you have a GPS, just hide it,” she said. “Get to know your neighbors too. That not only establishes a relationship, but they will look out for you when you are integrating yourself in the community.”

Fitzpatrick sends “student watch” emails to the off-campus listserv with information about crime in the local area. Leaving the protection of campus can be an adjustment for many students, she said.

“People don’t realize it’s such a transition moving off campus,” Fitzpatrick said. “In the campus community, stuff gets stolen sometimes but it’s a lot more student-community based, so they respond to one another more … Realize that you are not in a community of just students.”

Fitzpatrick advised students to lock their doors at all times, even when one or more residents are in the home, and said using house alarm systems regularly is also important.

“I think [these crimes are] a continuing trend, so this is something we’re trying to work on because we have been establishing a better relationship with the cops this year,” she said. “Now we are trying to focus on common sense safety things.”

Sgt. Keri Kei Shibata is the crime prevention officer at Notre Dame, and she leads educational initiatives for both on- and off-campus students to help them learn about safety.

“As for the crimes that students experience, I would say there has not been much of a change,” she said. “There have always been robberies and burglaries … most of them from unlocked doors or open windows.”

Shibata said students need to take more initiative in their own safety educations. When planning to move off campus, students should make safety a priority in their housing search.

“It can be a great thing but students need to understand that there is a lot more responsibility for one’s own safety when students live off campus that will require some inconveniences to make sure they are doing all the things they can to be safe,” Shibata said.

She advised students to investigate the crime alerts and maps available through the off-campus website.

“What I recommend is that when you have in mind a couple places that you are looking at … and you feel like this might be an organization you want to rent from, I would go to these crime maps and look through the maps for at least the last year and crime area that you are living,”

Shibata also recommended checking the area during the day and at night to see what the environment has been like lately.

“Safety has to be a priority, and building those good safety habits now will also be helpful down the road,” Shibata said.