A burglary is one of those things that most people assume would never happen to them – especially students. Students living away from home for the first time often think they wouldn’t be a target for thieves and hardly take precaution to protect their home and property. But unfortunately, there are many people out there looking to take advantage of unprepared students.
In London, Ontario – a community built around two large post-secondary institutions – students are a prime target for burglars looking for unarmed homes filled with electronics. Already this year, there have been 280 residential burglaries reported in a two-mile radius of Western University and 129 around Fanshawe College according to the LexisNexis Community Crime Map.
The number of burglaries happening each year is roughly the same. Last year there were 288 residential break-ins near Western University and 293 in the year prior.
Residential burglaries in a two-mile radius from Western University (left), Fanshawe College (right). Data derived from LexisNexis Community Crime Map.
Graph of four years of reported residential burglaries in a two-mile radius from Western University. Data derived from LexisNexis Community Crime Map.
According to the London Police, post-secondary students often leave their doors and windows unlocked and announce when they aren’t home on social media, making their homes easy prey for thieves.
" Individuals may be more at risk of having their residence targeted if they announce when they are away from their residence, if they keep doors or windows unlocked, or if they have electronics or expensive items visible from the exterior of the residence," said Constable Sandasha Bough.
Most break-ins occur on weekends and long periods of time when students are away from their houses. But can also occur at any day or time in a month.
Caption for the infographic.
A BREAK-IN STORY
Taylor Morrow was the first of her roommates to return to her student home after the winter break. She said that it took her a minute to notice that a stranger had been through the house over the break.
“At first, I didn’t notice anything was different. I thought maybe my roommates forgot to clean their mess before heading home,” said Morrow. “But then I noticed the broken side door.”
The burglars ransacked every room, breaking down doors to get into the ones that were locked.
Between her and her roommates, the thieves stole an iPad, a professional camera, some alcohol, and several hundred dollars of accessories and clothing.
Taylor immediately reported the break-and-enter to the police. But she said that so far, nothing has been found.
Her house is now armed with an alarm system and has warning signs placed outside and on the windows to deter any future burglars.
LONDON VERSES OTHER CITIES
Between cities, there is no standardization to reporting and tracking crime statistics. Though from data collected from a variety of crime maps and police-reports, London appears to have some of the highest rates of residential burglaries around their post-secondary institutions compared to other large cities in Ontario.
According to the LexisNexis Community Crime Map, with data provided by the Hamilton Police Service, there were 28 residential burglaries reported this year in a two-mile radius of McMaster University.
While Queens University and Brock University use different maps to track their crime, they follow a similar trend. In the past six months around Queens University, there were 58 reported residential property crimes. And, only two accounts of break-and-enters around Brock University.
Pie graph of the last 6 months of reported residential burglaries around Western University, Queen's University, McMaster University, and Brock University. Data derived from LexisNexis Community Crime Map and CrimeReports.
London Police denied commenting on the city’s high rates of residential burglaries.
Jacek Malczewski and Anneliese Poetz, geography scholars at Western University, suggest that one of the reasons that London may have high rates of residential burglaries in the areas surrounding their post-secondary institutions is because of the routine activities hypothesis. According to their study on residential burglaries in London, the hypothesis states that “neighbourhoods with high proportions of rental housing and student population provide the quintessential environment for the convergence of three elements: motivated offenders, suitable targets, and the absence of capable guardians.”
“It happened just before reading week two years ago on Saturday night,” said Eric Morrison. “Me and my roommates all left to go out to the bar and when we came back home the back window was wide open.”
The burglars went through the house and took all the laptops, cash, credit card info, and cheques that were left out.
“We think there were two of them and they must’ve come from the back fence because there were footprints in the snow,” Morrison said. “Apparently, from what the police were saying, there were a few other houses that got robbed that night, so it was probably planned.”
Morrison has yet to hear more from police about the break-and-enter.
“We barred our windows and lock up all of our valuables when we leave. We also make sure that anything worth taking is out of sight when we’re out of the house for anything more than half an hour,” he said.
A BREAK-IN STORY
RESPONSE FROM LONDON POLICE
While the London Police don’t publicize information about the offenders of residential burglaries, they have a Crime Prevention page on their website to help citizens protect themselves.
Listen to Constable Carl Noel talk about Home Security on the “Ask BBB” radio show on 980 AM.
The public can also subscribe to receive crime updates from the London Police. “We send out crime prevention tips on a regular basis both through our media releases, and through social media,” said Constable Sandasha Bough.
There are many preventative measures that students can take to protect themselves against a burglary.
Here is a list of ways that students can protect their home and secure their valuables:
Lock the Windows and Doors
According to the London Police, many burglaries happen when students forget to lock their windows and doors before leaving. Since burglars want an easy entrance in, making sure that everything is locked and secure is a good way to deter them from entering the property.
Get an Alarm
Alarm systems are often enough to deter burglars from robbing a house. Though if an alarm system is out of a student budget, they could always get the "house armed" stickers to scare thieves away.
Keep Anything of Value Out of Sight
When items of value are left visibly in sight, they are easy for burglars to quickly spot and grab. By hiding valuable items, there is less of a chance of burglars snatching them on their raid of the house. If a student is going home for the holidays, they should take their valuables with them.
Don’t Leave Empty Boxes Outside the House
Empty boxes left outside of a house might show what a person has and whether their house might be a good target to steal from. Instead, rip empty boxes up and put them in the recycling box.
Use a Light Timer
With a light timer, a house can look occupied even when no one is home.
Insure Personal Belongings
Many students are unaware that it is their personal responsibility to insure their property. If someone breaks into the house that they are renting, their property is not protected under the landlord’s insurance.
Keep a List of the Serial Numbers of Electronics
If a serial number of an electronic is recorded, police may be able to track down the item and return it if its stolen. A student can also protect their jewellery and other small valuable items if they take photographs and report them to the police.
Students leaving of the holidays should inform their neighbours that they will be away from their property. Burglars look for houses that are empty – newspapers and mail gathered outside is a tell-tale sign. Asking neighbours keep an eye out for anything suspicious, remove newspapers, and shovel the driveway helps to create the illusion that someone is home.
Don’t Post on Social Media
A student should never post on social media when they will be away from their home. Social media is public and someone looking to target students might use that to track down which houses will be empty.
Break-in Preventative Measures. Image licenced under creative commons.
In the summer of 2017, since Arran Reid and his roommates were going to be away all break, they decided to sublet their place. They thought that with someone else living there, the house and their property would be well taken care of.
He said he was shocked when he heard what happened from the subletter.
“When she was sleeping, the burglars broke through the basement window,” Reid explained. “They went into every room and stole all of our electronics – our speakers, TVs… anything valuable.”
“When they saw her asleep, they quietly took her car keys off her table and left,” he said.
The subletter’s car was later found in Toronto with a wrecked engine. According to Reid, the burglars were never caught.
His landlord suggested they protect their windows with wooden poles.
If a student sees anything suspicious, they should contact the London Police at (519)661-5670 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Information can also be sent online anonymously at www.londoncrimestoppers.com.
A BREAK-IN STORY