Students who returned from carefree winter vacations to the shock of burglarized off-campus houses and stolen possessions last week are the newest members of an increasing visible group – campus crime victims. From robberies around campus to a student stabbed outside her apartment, events over the past few months have led to a perception that crime against students in Ann Arbor is on the rise. The Ann Arbor Police Department and the University’s Department of Public Safety need to better ensure the safety of students by creating another perception: that police are serious about protecting students.
Despite the high profile of several recent crimes, the news might not be as bad as it seems. Although the Ann Arbor Police Department reported 15 burglaries from Dec. 16 through Jan. 3, for instance, that figure was down from the 24 such crimes reported during the same time last year. Yet another so-called “crime wave” was even an issue in a City Council candidate forum before elections last November.
Break-ins over Thanksgiving and winter vacations have left students living off campus feeling ill at ease. Winter recess in particular finds student neighborhoods virtually empty for an extended period. For the would-be burglar, it really is the most wonderful time of the year
Not only are students missing during breaks, but the perception is growing that the AAPD and DPS are on vacation too. When weeks pass before committed robberies are even detected, break-ins will continue to be part of the holiday tradition.
Students are not completely free from blame; having lost their minds at the prospect of a few days to relax, some forget to lock each and every doors and window. But even some students who conscientiously took the University’s holiday crime prevention reminders to heart returned to campus to find they had been robbed.
Run-down off-campus housing has become the norm rather than the exception – but while faded carpets and battered couches may be part of the campus culture, door locks and windows that hardly resist forced entry are not.
Students are all too familiar with law enforcement as it is practiced when they are in town. Both police agencies’ interaction with students largely consists of breaking up parties and giving tickets to minors in possession of alcohol. It too often seems local police are less concerned with protecting the student body from felons than with keeping the student liver from alcohol.
It’s not hard to figure out why burglaries spike during University breaks. Occasional student negligence and failing door and window locks makes student housing more vulnerable – but it is the sense that the streets are empty of both students and a police presence that poses the greatest threat. Students need just as much protection from the AAPD and DPS during vacations as at other times. Officers need not park a manned patrol car down every street all day and night, but they do need to make frequent rounds to create a new perception – that even after students go home, someone is watching.