Break-in stories rampant on campus

Four times as many break and enters in the student Ghetto this March than last, Kingston Police say

‘People are normally looking for cash, booze or electronics, and that’s all normally in a student house,’ professor says.
‘People are normally looking for cash, booze or electronics, and that’s all normally in a student house,’ professor says.

A new break-in was reported in what appears to be a trend of home invasions near campus.

Kiran Rana, ArtSci ’11 said her house was broken into on March 17. “We got home at 1 a.m. and I know I locked the doors. ... I woke up with a start at 7:30 a.m. and I couldn’t find my laptop but my first assumption was that one of my housemates took it,” she said. “I went downstairs and one of my housemate’s doors was open, which was weird because she always closes it, so I went back upstairs to talk to another housemate and once we realized both our laptops were missing, we went to call the cops.

“I went to find my phone and realized it was missing which was really creepy, because I sleep with it right beside me,” she said. “The cops weren’t very helpful; they just looked around and said something like, ‘If you see anything out of place let us know.’”

Rana said none of her housemates woke up even though someone had been in their bedrooms.

“They stole three Macs, a watch, a razor, two phones, a jacket and all the chargers,” she said. “It made me think they knew where everything was.”

Rana said she’s heard a lot of other stories about break-ins in the student Ghetto recently.

“Two days ago, a house a couple of doors down from us got robbed,” she said. “They had a party on the top floor and someone took the bars off the windows on the first floor and took their laptops.”

This house was robbed on a Friday night, which Rana said makes her think someone is watching the street and breaking in when they know people will be less cautious, such as on St. Patrick’s Day when her house was broken into.

A Statistics Canada report released yesterday said in Kingston robberies increased by eight per cent between 1999 and 2008.

The report said Kingston now has 30 reported robberies per 100,000 people. The Canadian average for metropolitan areas with a population over 100,000 people is 97.

Kingston Police crime analyst Jason Kee said there have been more break-ins in the student area than usual.

Kee defines the student area as the region east of Victoria St., west of Barrie St. and Clergy St., south of Brock St. and north of Union St.

“This year February has had a higher number [of break-ins] compared to other months,” he said. “Other months have three or four, but February had seven.” So far, eight break-ins have been reported in the student area this month, Kee said, adding that last year there were only two break-ins reported in March and three in February.

Kee said he doesn’t know why break-ins have increased suddenly but he can see why student houses tend to get broken into.

“The main thing I get out of it is a lot of times students don’t lock doors and windows and they tend to leave laptops and video game systems in plain view,” he said.

Even though there have been more break-ins than usual in the past couple months, break-and-enters have gone down by 25 per cent since last year and 49 per cent from two years ago.

Vincent Sacco, sociology department acting head, has studied crime perception and the ways in which crime stories affect the people who hear them.

“There’s research that if the stories are coming through interpersonal channels, like word of mouth, it’s likely to increase people’s level of insecurity,” he said. “People become more anxious; they just don’t worry about break and enter, they worry about other things too.”

Sacco said hearing stories through interpersonal networks has a bigger effect on people than hearing them through the media, but that it makes it more likely for an individual to hear the story in more than one variation.

“An individual break-in can have a multiplier effect when you can hear about the same break in four or five times,” he said, adding that this can make people perceive a higher level of threat than there actually is.

Sacco said some of his students have told him their break-in stories.

“When a few of my students told me their break-in stories a few days ago it was told as a ‘Would you believe it’ story,” he said. “There is a common tendency for victims to tell their stories with an ironic twist or a surprise ending ... like any stories, it’s more entertaining the more comical it is.”

Most break-ins nowadays aren’t done by professionals, Sacco said, adding that about 60 per cent of break-ins are reported to the police.

Ten per cent result in a charge and about six per cent result in convictions, he added.

“You needed skill in the ’40s and ’50s when people were home more and you needed to be able to decipher what was valuable. Most of these young kids today don’t know real jewels from fake ones,” he said. “It’s simpler to break-in now; people aren’t home as much and you can always find a laptop or iPod.”

Sacco said student houses are often filled with valuables and students are often out for predictable periods of time, such as Reading Week or Friday nights.

“People are normally looking for cash, booze or electronics, and that’s all normally in a student house,” he said, adding that students are especially vulnerable to break-ins because they leave keys with each other, are relaxed about security precautions such as locking the door and have parties that attract guests they may only know by three or four degrees of separation.

Sacco said he thinks the best way to combat burglary is by forming a community where neighbours watch out for each other’s safety.

“Security precautions like extra locks make it harder but doesn’t stop them; the rational burglar will go to another house,” he said. “People can modify individual risks but it then gets displaced on to their neighbour. Ideally there would be a naturally-occurring form of community.”

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