Broken Door

By: Ryan Shek

When the spring semester at Western Michigan University ended last April, Clint Cook came   back to his Vine neighborhood home and found the front door open.

As he stepped inside the open doorway and into the second story house, he felt a draft. The lights were turned off. But Cook could see his television stand through the dark. It was bare.

A square outline of dust marked where the television used to sit.

Burglars had broken through a backdoor window to ransack the home, leaving disorder and an unsettling quiet.

Even more dismaying for Cook, 22, a WMU student majoring in Criminology, was that he had installed deadbolts after his home was burglarized three years ago. They weren’t enough to deter the thieves.

“It’s nothing new around here,” said Cook. “Whoever’s doing it knows when to do it.”

The break-ins are carefully timed. According to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s crime statistics for the city of Kalamazoo, the three weeks with the highest recorded burglary rates in the Vine neighborhood since 2005 are WMU’s Welcome Week, WMU’s homecoming week, and the week following the end of the fall semester.

Jeremy Shaffer, a KDPS officer who works in the Vine community, attributes the trend in part to new residents and simple negligence. “We have a lot of new students moving into the neighborhood and their habits aren’t too good when it comes to calling KDPS,” Shaffer said. “In addition, they habitually don’t lock windows and doors to their homes.”

Last September there was an increase in the burglaries committed in Vine — 19 reported cases, an unusual amount according to Shaffer. There have only been three months in the past three years to surpass September’s totals. Police reports show that the majority were forced entries through unlocked doors and windows.

Steve Walsh, executive director of the Vine neighborhood association, is well aware of the community’s burglary trend. He explained how many new residents experience a “learning curve” upon arriving in the neighborhood.

“Many of our crimes are crimes of opportunity; criminals simply trying doors to see if they open,” Walsh said. “There are times when I will wake up and walk the neighborhood at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., and I’m often dismayed at what I see. Windows propped open with textbooks, purses, phones, computers, right within arms’ reach of a screen door.”

According to Walsh, urban living requires more precaution and attention to detail than what some students are willing to afford.

“We have students that find out the hard way that when you host large parties, there will be a percentage of folks that show up for nefarious reasons, often fights or preparing a house for a later B and E,” Walsh said.

In order to spread awareness throughout the neighborhood, the VNA utilizes social media in conjunction with other forms of outreach every year. The VNA also holds neighborhood watch meetings every month, and has a readily available liaison officer.

The VNA has worked with public safety in the past. In 2012, officers from the KDPS went door to door warning Vine residents of burglaries, and informed them of safety precautions.

Troubling though, is the difficulty the VNA has had in spreading awareness to its large renter population. Walsh attributes the difficulty in part to resident turnover and general misunderstanding.

According to Walsh, some students aren’t aware the VNA exists. And even more wrongly perceive the organization as an entity that asks for time and money. The lack of understanding separates the VNA from student residents who might not be aware of the benefits that come from engaging the community.

“If you’re young, you might wonder what relevancy a neighborhood association might have in your life,” Walsh said.

According to Shaffer, when burglars are caught, it is imperative that the members of the community follow through with prosecution.  “Catching a burglar is tough and usually very time consuming … letting him go after he’s been caught is tough too,” Shaffer said. “It solves nothing long term.”

Some simple safety tips suggested by the KDPS for student residents include:

  • Compile a list of serial numbers for your property and keep the list in a safe place.
  •  Close and lock your doors and windows, even if you are at home.
  • Light up the inside of your home, to give the impression that the house is occupied.
  • Attend your local neighborhood watch meetings to receive crime prevention tips and statistics. Get to know your neighbors and community.
  • Be aware of people you have at your parties and do not allow people in you do not know.

Maybe the most important safety precaution one can take, according to Walsh, is simply being neighborly.

”Vine is an urban neighborhood,” Walsh said. “We have to keep our heads on swivels and look out for one another.”

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