Thieves drawn to student areas

This year there have been 831 break-and-enters in the neighbourhoods around campus

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For the past two years, University Ave. has had one of the highest amounts of thefts in the Student Ghetto.

Thirty-eight houses on University Ave. were broken into in 2011, so far this year there have been 43.

Brendon Holder left his house one evening earlier this semester and returned to find his front door hanging off its hinges. When Holder entered his home he found two laptops and a gaming system stolen from the four-bedroom unit on University Ave. and William St.

Holder, Comm ’13, and his three housemates had left their house that night around midnight, making sure to lock the door behind them. Inside, all of the bedroom doors except the one on the ground floor were locked.

“It’s hard to give advice because the obvious thing is to lock your door — yet that’s what I did and I was still a victim,” Holder said.

The Kingston Police Force (KPF) divides the city into zones for the purposes of tracking crimes such as break-and-enters. The two zones that encompass the University campus and the Student Ghetto have seen 831 break-and-enters so far this year — last year they had a total of 1,048. As the zones extend beyond the Ghetto, it’s unclear how many of these cases directly involve students. KPF was unable to disclose the exact boundaries of the two zones.

This is Holder’s first year with his housemates in the unit. The same unit was broken into last year. He said he isn’t surprised to hear about break-ins happening in the area since most houses aren’t equipped with alarm systems.

“Over my four years I’ve heard regularly of robberies but you’re still stunned when it actually happens,” Holder said. “It’s the kind of thing you assume will happen to somebody else, not you.” He believes because some students in the Ghetto don’t lock their houses it can be easier for thieves to knock on doors and walk in if they don’t hear a response.

“It may feel as though the Queen’s community is one where you can trust everyone but we need to be aware that not everyone walking around campus or in the Ghetto is part of that community,” he said. “I’d love to know how many houses in the Ghetto keep their doors unlocked.” Holder’s locked bedroom door didn’t stop the thieves from kicking it in and taking his backpack containing his laptop.

“It seemed like they were looking for specific things,” Holder said, adding that his watch and stereo system had been spared.

“We had to replace everything. The annoying part for me was that my laptop had all my files on it,” he said.

The group took note of the stolen items and called the police who took photographs of the inside of their house and told them they’d scour local pawnshops in case the thieves tried to offload the stolen property locally.

Holder said they were advised to check sites such as Kijiji and Craigslist in case their stolen property showed up online. They never recovered anything.

According to the KPF, many stolen items are taken with the intent of reselling them. Brandon Wilson, manager at the Hock Shop, a pawnshop in the Frontenac Mall, said the shop works hand-in-hand with KPF in order to recover potentially stolen goods.

“We report everything we buy with serial numbers and identification,” he said, adding that all items are held in a back room and are subject to police review on a weekly basis.

If the police notice any similarities between items in the store and reported missing items, they will investigate.

“It is inevitable, and we do our best to get the merchandise back to the customer,” he said. “Having stolen goods is no good for business.”

Steven Koopman, constable and media relations officer for the KPF said thieves target the student area because they expect students to possess valuables such as cell phones and computers.

Being able to identify valuables — for example, through a laptop’s serial number — can make it easier to retrieve stolen items, Koopman said.

He added that it’s important that students record the serial numbers of any appliances, or note key identifiers on their belongings — like stickers on a laptop.

Cases of break-in theft, also spike when students leave for home for extended periods of time, like winter break, Koopman said.

Chris Michael, a student who lives at Earl and Frontenac Streets came home from winter break last January to find that approximately $3,000 of his personal property had been stolen.

Even though he had made sure all the doors were locked, the thieves went to the rear of the house and managed to enter by smashing in a window and forcing open every bedroom door.

“The whole place was just trashed when we got back,” Michael, ArtSci ’14, said, adding that the thieves took household items, such as shower gel, as well as valuable electronics.

Expensive sports jerseys that were hung up in the living room were packed away into suitcases stolen from the residents and carried out of the house. All tenants had insurance and the group’s landlord offered help in whatever way possible, including repairing the window and doors.

Michael said the police were thorough in helping their house file a report and eventually arrested one of the culprits a few days later. They said he was a known criminal and had broken into about 20 houses in the Ghetto previously, although none of the stolen belongings were retrievable as they had either been sold or were unidentifiable. Michael didn’t know whether the thief was charged or not.

Theft charges are classed as theft under $5,000 or theft over $5,000. Theft under $5,000 is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years and theft over $5,000 could involve prison time for up to 10 years.

Michael was covered by his parents’ insurance and was given a case number by the police which made it easier to file an insurance claim.

In order to prevent thefts, the AMS offers a Holiday House Check program at no cost for students over winter and summer breaks. Volunteers from the Municipal Affairs Commission trample snow on walkways, gather mail and inspect the house for signs of a break-in.

Last year over 100 houses participated in the volunteer-run program, which covers from West Campus and several blocks north of Princess St.

A landlord with over 10 houses in the area and 40 years experience in the business agrees that theft rates in the Ghetto are relatively steady. The landlord, who wished to remain anonymous due to security reasons, has constantly found theft to be a problem.

“Unfortunately, the thieves are getting more aggressive,” she said.

She gets two to three reports of break-ins each year from her tenants. She added she was shocked at how brazen some thieves could be — she’s heard stories of houses being broken into while people were inside studying, sleeping or having a party.

She also said she’s seen suspicious individuals scoping out houses during the September move-in period.

“There are always suspicious people walking around the houses, like the people who collect bottles,” she said.

The landlord said she installs bars on the back windows of some of her houses, as well as spotlights to ensure that areas at the back of the houses are well lit, but added that these measures are just deterrents.

“If people want to get in, they will.”

With files from Rosie Hales and Alison Shouldice

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