The Ann Arbor Police Department has spent about $1,000 on a campaign that it hopes will curb the city’s growing numbers of thefts by encouraging students to lock their doors.
With crime rates up 9.9 percent from last year, the department’s new initiative is aimed at the University’s 28,000 students who live off campus, a demographic that Police Chief Daniel Oates says is most likely to fall prey to theft.
The campaign, which consists of a banner that flew over the stadium at this past weekend’s football game, a new website with security tips, advertisements and hand outs encouraging students to lock doors, comes at a time when theft constitutes 90 percent of all the city’s crimes.
“We unfortunately have a culture in this town of not locking our doors,” Oates said, referring to the 65 percent of thefts that result from an unlocked door. “And when it comes to theft crime, the overwhelming odds are that the victim will be a student,” he added.
But not all students seem worried about this threat. LSA junior Newell Blair-Mann lives in a house with four other people and says that he only locks the entrance to his house at night.
“There’s always somebody around the house (during the day),” he said. “I’m not really worried.”
Break-ins can also occur as a result of unlocked entrances to apartment complexes, Oates said, a problem he is trying to alleviate this week by meeting with landlords who own many properties.
Julie Stadelman, property manager from Ann Arbor Realty, Inc., said that though the main entrances in their properties are equipped with automatic locks, these doors are often propped open by students.
“There’s more propping doors in the fall, mainly because people are moving in,” Stadelman said.
But not all apartment complexes have automatic locks. LSA Junior Jennifer Bischoff said that the main entrance to her apartment building is supposed to be locked at all times, but the door doesn’t close all the way and does not lock.
She said the buildings around the city that aren’t securely locked are a result of a lack of upkeep, a problem in a city full of inexpensive student housing. “When things are run down, it invites intruders,” she said.
In addition to the police department’s efforts to encourage locked doors, the department also hopes to promote the use of 9-1-1 in reporting suspicious behavior, not just in emergency situations.
Oates said students often don’t think to call 9-1-1 when they should. “We have a small criminal underclass that preys on students,” he said. “There are people who get away with these crimes because no one picks up the phone and calls us.”
But some students said they feel uncomfortable contacting the authorities about people they see loitering around their property. Bischoff said she saw some people hanging around her apartment while she was moving in but did not think to call 9-1-1 because she only saw them during that one day.
“If I saw someone consistently, I would let the management company (for my apartment building) know first,” she said.
But Oates stressed the rapid nature of a theft. “They’ll walk in unchallenged to a communal residence and look for open doors, steal wallets, iPods, purses and be gone in no time at all.”
Oates said he is hopeful about the new campaign and its effects on the city’s crime rates. “The message is real simple: We’re a very safe town, but we do have crime.”