Rash of burglaries prompts U

by Justin Costley

Nighttime burglaries in the University area could be partially avoided through tightened security efforts of residents, police officials recently said.
In the last several weeks, at least seven residences in and around the University have been burglarized, which police say is par for the course.
While the stolen items are somewhat different in each case, the mode of entry for the burglars is usually an unlocked door or window.
University student Ryan Swiderski was a victim of a burglary earlier this month as he and his roommates had nearly $4000 in electronics equipment stolen from their home while they were sleeping.
The burglar or burglars entered the house through an unlocked window on the ground floor and stole several items including a television, stereo receiver, 150 compact discs and a video cassette recorder.
Burglaries such as this are not new to the University community, and this school year is no exception.
Officer Jabra Kawas of the SAFE unit said burglars are more attracted to homes they can access easily through unsecured doors or windows.
SAFE, which stands for SAfety For Everyone, is a community crime prevention program in the Minneapolis Police Department.
“In my experience as a police officer, and my district is the U of M area, what I see is a lot of lax security,” Kawas said.
“People don’t lock their houses all the time. They leave their windows unsecured and that’s just an invitation to a burglar, really.”
Kawas said one of the reasons the University community falls victim to burglaries is many people who come from rural or suburban areas are less aware of the need for security.
“I think what we see, especially at the beginning of the new school year with the influx of new students coming in, are that thefts and burglaries rise a bit because there is no education of how to keep stuff secure,” Kawas said.
Residences around the University also tend to be rented instead of owned and the area has more people moving in and out than in other communities.
This can lead to residents who are less acquainted with neighbors or less in tune with who belongs in the neighborhood and who doesn’t.
Minneapolis Police Lt. Steve Kincaid, who works in the second precinct’s investigation unit, said there is much more foot traffic in and around the University, even at night.
He added this could disguise a burglar who may be walking around looking for a vulnerable dwelling.
“In more owner-occupied residential neighborhoods, the person wandering around at 2:30 in the morning is going to stand out a lot more and attract attention,” Kincaid said.

They’re not rocket scientists.
Police agree most burglars try to victimize unoccupied homes, but many of the recent burglaries occurred while some residents were upstairs sleeping or studying.
Kincaid also said that while there may be some thieves who enjoy the thrill of entering an occupied house, most simply mistake the lack of visible lights as proof of an unoccupied house.
“Most burglars are not rocket scientists, but neither are they actively seeking to be caught,” Kincaid said. “So they are going to try and avoid people.”
Although all burglars have different needs and motives, typically, they are most attracted to items that can be converted to cash quickly, police said.
While burglars will take large items when they can, police said small electronic items such as computers, cameras, stereos, and televisions are very popular.
Despite the recent burglaries, Kincaid said there hasn’t been an upswing in other criminal activity, except bicycle thefts, in the University area.
He and other officers in the second precinct’s investigation unit, who look carefully at each of these crimes on a daily basis, have no evidence of a relationship among the various burglaries.
“The squads that patrol in the area, the SAFE teams, have been doing a very good job of patrol in the neighborhoods and they have made some good arrests,” Kincaid said.

An ounce of prevention …
In addition to making sure doors and windows are locked, there are strategies for students to protect against intruders.
Pulling the shades or leaving the television or radio on while away gives the impression of an occupied house and makes it less attractive to thieves.
Making a list of all high dollar items including their brand names, serial numbers, and identifiable characteristics can make tracking recovered property much easier, Kincaid said.
And getting to know neighbors, even if they change repeatedly, will make them more likely to take an interest in students’ welfare, he added.
“They see someone messing around with your car or up on your porch or whatever, they’re more likely to call 911 than if they don’t know you from Adam,” Kincaid said.
Swiderski and his roommates, who didn’t have renter’s insurance at the time of the break-in, have learned their lesson and have changed the way they look at security .
“We do live a little more paranoid now,” Swiderski said. “We make sure that all our windows are locked now, and we definitely double check to make sure we’ve locked the doors before we leave.”

Justin Costley covers police and courts and welcomes comments at jcostle[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3224.