LSA junior Erin Harleton was hanging out with her roommates and friends at her house a week ago Monday night. The doors were unlocked, the lights were on and the television’s volume was turned up.
It was 10 p.m. and pretty clear that somebody was home, but that didn’t deter two thieves from climbing in through an open first-floor window, grabbing Harleton’s purse and jumping back out again.
“My housemate and I came downstairs and we were in the living room outside my bedroom and the light was on and the (bedroom’s) door was open. We saw there was movement, and we thought it was one of my roommates at first so we just were casually like, ‘Hey, what’s up, what’s going on,'” said Harleton, who lives in a nine-person home on Thompson Street. “The next thing that happened was (my roommate) saw my purse fly out the window.”
Harleton said that though she never got a glimpse at the strangers who entered her room that night, her roommate saw two people running away from the home, but it was from a distance and no clear description could be given.
“There were easily four or five people in the house at the time. It was just for a moment, during a 10-minute span, nobody was downstairs,” she said. “It’s scary that someone would come into your house while someone was home.”
Luckily, Harleton’s thieves didn’t get away with much – while they grabbed her purse, they didn’t have the chance to take her cell phone and other valuables.
Harleton is not the only student on campus to share the experience of having a stranger in his or her home unknowingly. All around campus, students are reporting break-ins and thefts.
Engineering junior Jason Conn’s house was robbed last month. Conn, who lives on Walnut Street, said he believes the house was targeted because the living room windows offer a clear view of the house’s contents.
The front door to his house was unlocked at the time, allowing the robbers to come in quietly. They slipped away five or 10 minutes after entering, disappearing with an XBOX, DVD player, a backpack and some DVDs, Conn said.
“There are now holes in our entertainment center, where there used to be electronics,” Conn said, adding that he and his housemates have changed their security measures. “It’s kind of a pain now. We keep the door locked all the time. We try to keep the shades down at night. It’s just a hassle.”
Despite that, he said he still thinks of Ann Arbor as a pretty safe place and doesn’t fear that the people who robbed his home will return.
“This incident was so random, and it’s not professional or anything. I don’t think we were cased or anything like that. There is more stuff that could have been stolen,” he said. “It could have happened to anyone.”
The Xbox and backpack were discovered in the Ann Arbor Arts Center on Main Street last Monday, but the DVD player is still missing, Conn said.
Ann Arbor Police Department Sgt. Angela Abrams said the majority of the city’s break-ins occur in the campus area.
“That’s where everything happens,” she said. “There isn’t the heightened security that there is in the areas where permanent residents live.”
Abrams added that anybody who looks on a crime map can see that robberies and break-ins cluster in student-occupied areas.
Though official statistics are not available, crime maps from recent weeks show that areas mostly occupied by students regularly have more burglaries and attempted burglaries than non-student neighborhoods.
Those areas include the roads between Main Street, McKinley Avenue, Oxford Road, and Kingsley Street – a relatively small geographical area in comparison to the rest of the city.
From the period between Aug. 25 to Sept. 21, that area has experienced a higher number of crimes than the rest of Ann Arbor, defined as the area between M-14, US-23 and I-94, much of which is highly populated.
For example, between Aug. 25 and Sept. 1 when many students were moving into their new residences, the people living in the campus area reported 14 burglaries, while those living outside of it reported only 5 burglaries.
In the week of Sept. 1-7, the campus area had 16 burglaries, the same number of burglaries that occurred outside of the area. From Sept. 8 to 14, that ratio changed to 11 to 8, and from Sept. 15 to 21, it was 14 to 8.
Overall, during those four weeks, the campus area had 55 burglaries, while the rest of Ann Arbor had 37.
Crime maps for the week of Sept. 21 to 27 are not yet available.
Because their residents are constantly changing, student residential areas don’t participate in the Neighborhood Block Watch Program that is popular in the rest of the city. The lack of security and awareness in student neighborhoods has made them a successful target for criminals for years, Abrams said.
“Past success. I hate to say it, but that is why,” she added.
A criminal’s past success may have been the reason why Music junior Eric Hachikian’s house on Ann Street has been broken into twice over the last three months.
People were home both times the house was broken into. The first time occurred in July, when Hachikian and his roommates were either in the basement or in upstairs bedrooms, leaving the ground floor unattended for several hours. The second time was late last month, when again, the ground floor was empty.
Both break-ins occurred sometime between 4 to 6 a.m., Hachikian said.
“We don’t think our doors were unlocked, but living in a house with six guys, it’s quite possible one of us went upstairs and left the door unlocked thinking that Ann Arbor is a safe enough place,” he said.
“It’s one of those things where if someone leaves the door unlocked, it’s not because they did it on purpose, it’s just that five minute period that someone is going to the bathroom.”
The thieves stole the house’s Sony PlayStation 2, video games, DVDs, clothes, a backpack and other entertainment items in July.
The second break-in occurred after Hachikian’s housemate bought a second PlayStation 2 and the thieves stole the replacement.
“We have not bought a third PlayStation 2 out of spite,” Hachikian said, adding that, as far as he knows, there are no suspects. “It pisses me off that, if it’s other students, they can’t realize that we are all poor college students and there is no reason for them to come in and take our entertainment away.”