The Break-in Problem



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Chapman students have been saying it. The Student Government Association has been saying it. Public Safety has been hinting at it, and now the Orange Police Department has said it. Lock your doors, because one out of five burglaries in Orange involves a Chapman student’s home.

“The residential burglaries involving Chapman students has remained between 18 and 21% of the total for the whole city,” said Lieutenant Fred Lopez of the Orange Police Department.

This rate of break-ins has affected several Chapman students who live off campus. Though Lopez did not disclose an exact number of burglaries that have taken place this school year, he did say that around one tenth of all the burglaries calls that OPD has received since August have been from Chapman students.

“Immediately after the burglary, [my housemates and I] were all terrified,” said sophomore Alice Tsui. “I personally couldn’t sleep with the lights out for about a week, and I had friends staying over with me even in my own bed for a few days. Since then, the frantic fear has gone away, but I’m still constantly paranoid. Being home alone once meant being able to sing at the top of my lungs or do other embarrassing things, but now it’s scary, and I always feel safer with other people in the house.”

“It’s bizarre not feeling safe in your own home after something like this happens,” junior Alex Weir said. Weir, whose home was burglarized in the fall, said that “the stress that it brought on was even worse than the loss of [her] stolen property.”

Lopez stressed that a key to burglary prevention is making sure that residents don’t leave any “opportunity spots” for burglars to strike.

“Most of the time, we refer to theft crimes as crimes of opportunity,” Lopez said. “About 65% of Chapman University related burglaries involve an unlocked door or open window.  This becomes a bigger problem with warmer weather.  Many rental properties don't have AC.  Students generally leave windows open to vent the house.  This makes a home an easy target.”

“Limiting these opportunities can be difficult, especially in college housing, where you have four, five, six people entering and exiting the house every day,” Public Safety’s Lieutenant Bill Herrin said. “I think that on top of making sure that you all have a routine in place that ensures that the residence is locked up when it needs to be, it’s also important that the exterior of the house doesn’t attract criminals by keeping it nice and occupied looking.”

Herrin said that this can be done by making sure that yards are kept looking trimmed and by having motion sensor lights installed, as they are “some of the best deterrents out there.” He also advocated for alarm installations.

“It took us a while to get it down, but we have gotten in the habit of being absolutely meticulous when it comes to locking up our house when we leave,” senior accounting major Pete Wilson said. Wilson, who lost upwards of $10,000 worth of electronics in a burglary during his sophomore year, said that he “would never make the same mistakes again” after dealing with the trauma of a break-in.

Tsui commented on how things have not been the same on many levels since being burglarized.

“The paranoia has gone up several notches,” Tsui said. “We’ve spotted a guy (or a couple different ones) casing our house several times, and every time I come home, no matter what time of day, I have this instinctual habit of checking across the street to see if anyone is just lingering and not doing anything, especially at night.”

Tsui went on to say that “the realization that we are not invincible” has been one of the hardest parts of the aftermath of her house’s break-in.

“I used to always hear about break-ins or crimes and [to me] they were just amusing news stories, never something that could possibly happen to me,” Tsui said. “I was in disbelief for probably several weeks; I kept thinking that we’d catch them and get out things back…unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way, and it didn’t for us. I was also quite a violating experience. I distinctly remember running into my room and seeing all of my drawers thrashed open, my computer and camera and lenses all gone, trash tipped over…and just knowing that some stranger’s hands had been all over my things. It was a disgusting feeling that I couldn’t shake for a long time.”

Former SGA president Chris Im expressed his approval of OPD acknowledging that Orange has had a spike in student burglaries.

“I think in some instances they said that these break-ins were pretty much mostly the result of students being careless, but I think they’ve come to the conclusion that with the latest break-ins and stories it’s hard to say that now,” Im said. “Students are being safer but it’s not necessarily working out for the best in some cases.”

In any case, both the city and the Chapman community are beginning the process of taking steps to address this issue. A few new programs are in place, including Public Safety’s electronic registration program, that are designed to help students be reunited with their possessions should they be stolen from their home. Free of charge, Public Safety or OPD will inspect any off-campus residence to make sure that students’ homes are safe and secure upon request.

“We just all need to prepare and educate ourselves, apply the prevention techniques we have and continue creating more, do the absolute best job we can and really have each other’s backs as a community to prevent this stuff from happening and making sure we respond swiftly and properly when it does,” Herrin said.

But, even when taking the necessary steps to protect a house from future burglaries, there’s always the chance that lightning can strike twice when it comes to break-ins. Gina Petraglia knows this better than anyone.

“After the second time, I also had a lot of anxiety and felt personally targeted,” Petraglia said of her house’s second burglary. “I just didn’t understand why or how someone could do this again, especially so shortly after the first time.”

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